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Bibiano Fernandes: COVID-safety guidelines in camp will help U-16 boys get used to new normal

India U-16 national team head coach Bibiano Fernandes during a training session. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
India U-16 national team head coach Bibiano Fernandes during a training session. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

After mesmerising fans last year in the SAFF U-15 Championship and the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers, the Indian U-16 Men’s National Team is back once again for a training camp in Goa having, gone through the precautionary measures that have been put in place to keep them safe from the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head coach Bibiano Fernandes sounded thankful that the boys could be assembled at one camp and the team could start training once again.

“It feels great to get back to the camp once again. We had set our sights on the AFC U-16 Championship since last year, but obviously, under the circumstances, the safety of all parties involved came before everything else,” Bibiano said to “But, I’m thankful that we have now been able to arrange for all our players to enter the camp in a safe manner and start the camp. I must thank all the parties that helped us get here.”

Bibiano, who had led the previous batch of India U-16 boys to the quarterfinals of the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 – just one step away from direct qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup – feels that having strict COVID-safety procedures in place at the camp will help the boys adapt to the new normal in football.

“It is good that the boys are now getting to train under the COVID safety regulations. Of course, there are a lot of norms to follow and that can affect your game. So, it is good that they get used to these things from now itself,” said the coach.

Bibiano’s boys were on an eight-match unbeaten run in junior international football last year, having scored 39 goals and conceded just one in their eight matches in the SAFF U-15 Championship and the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers. As a result, the boys clinched the SAFF U-15 Championship title in Kalyani and followed that up by topping their group in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan last year.

With the pandemic situation forcing everyone to remain at their homes initially, the entire team had continued its indoor training routines, meeting via daily video conferencing. The head coach feels that the boys are in “decent shape” due to these activities.

“In terms of fitness, the boys are all in decent shape. Even during the lockdown, when they were all stuck at home, we all used to meet daily over video conferencing and carry out our physical training activities. We also tried to monitor their diet and made sure that they remain in good shape despite not being able to train outside,” he stated.

Having gone through a 10-day quarantine, with COVID tests being conducted before and after their arrival, and post their quarantine as well, the U-16 boys have once again resumed outdoor training with renewed vigour in line with the COVID-safety guidelines, which includes daily thermal screening, regular sanitization, etc as Indian football moves forward together.

“Thanks to all the indoor preparations that we did, the boys have hit the ground running. Now it’s a matter of practice and endless repetition till we are all ready for the main tournament, once it arrives,” said the India U-16 coach. “Physical fitness is one aspect, but they have not had much ball-training over quite a few months. However now, we will now be able to train and get things in place for the upcoming major tournament.”

(Soumo Ghosh / AIFF Media)