High on morale and bolstered by solid preparation, the Indian U-16 National Team takes on Vietnam in their first match of the U-16 AFC Championships Malaysia 2018 in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow (September 21).
With all four of the semi-finalists earning a ticket to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2019 in Peru, the onus is on Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes and his boys to play to their full potential.
In an exclusive interview, Bibiano talks at length about the team’s preparation, the challenges, chances of World Cup qualification and a lot more. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The team has played 20 International matches. How crucial were they for the preparation?
A: We have played international matches against the likes of Japan, Serbia, Iraq, Malaysia, Jordan, USA, Cameroon and others. All of the opponents that we have faced were high-quality teams in youth football and we managed to win some of them. Every match that we have played have aided us in the preparation for the AFC U-16 Championship by enabling us to test our permutations and combinations against tough teams and in stress conditions.
I need to thank the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, AIFF General Secretary and AIFF’s Director of National Teams for providing us this opportunity. We are better prepared and are better equipped than before.
Q: The Indian colts have a good goal scoring ratio against high-quality teams.
A: We have always tried to score first and that will be our objective for the matches ahead in the group stages as well. We have worked hard on our finishing and have rectified the wrongs. The boys have worked their socks off in training and the results are there for all to see.
Q: How has the team acclimatized?
A: We have had practice sessions every day since we arrived in Malaysia and the team has responded well in the training sessions. We are monitoring every player’s stress and physical condition and so far, everything looks good. The team has acclimatized well and are ready for the first match.
Q: How do you rate the opponents in the group?
A: Every team presents its own challenges. Iran are powerhouses in youth football and are known for their physical style of play. Both Indonesia and Vietnam are upcoming youth teams that have a swift style of playing football. We respect our opponents, but on the day, we will give everything that we have on the pitch.
Q: How do you assess tomorrow’s match against Vietnam?
A: Vietnam will be tough opponents. They have a very tacky style of playing and we will have to be at our level best if we are to defeat them. We will have to defend compactly while focusing on keeping our bearings in midfield.
Q: Can India qualify for the FIFA U17 World Cup?
A: We have to take one step at a time. The first job is to get out of the group stages and we are focusing on that. Once we qualify for the quarterfinals, then we will focus on qualification for the next match. But the team has the potential and on their day they can easily beat some of the best youth teams in the region.
Q: How is the atmosphere in the team?
A: The boys know the gravity of this tournament and acknowledge what it means for Indian football in general. They are not flustered with emotion but are looking forward to the challenge.
Q: Sunil Chhetri has heaped praise on the boys. Your thoughts on that?
A: Sunil Chhetri’s comments have raised the morale of the boys even higher. The boys were all excited and could not believe what Sunil said about them. They are thankful for such wonderful comments and are aiming to prove him right.
He is one of the icons for the boys and it is not every day that your icon praises you. It was an emotional moment for the boys.