The Indian U16 team is faced with an uphill task of competing in a challenging group in the final round of the AFC U16 Championship that will be held in Bahrain at the end of the year.
The colts will have to battle against Australia, South Korea and Uzbekistan in the Group Stage. A top-two finish will guarantee a spot in the quarterfinal, which remains India’s best performance in the history of the competition.
The top four teams will qualify for the 2021 FIFA U17 World Cup that will be hosted by Peru next year. Clearly, there is all to play for when the India colts take the pitch in November.
Here we look at how they performed in the previous editions of the competitions.
This will be the 19th edition of the AFC U16 Championship, with India set to make its ninth appearance. Of the eight times India featured in the final round of this competition, they could manage to get past the Group Stage on only two occasions – 2002 and 2018.
India debuted in the U16 Championship in the 1990 edition which was hosted by UAE. Eight teams drawn in two groups vied for the four semi-final spots. After straightforward defeats against the hosts and China, India managed a 1-0 consolation win over Jordan. They finished third in the group and hence failed to qualify for the knockout stages.
India’s next appearance in the competition was in 1996. They were drawn alongside hosts Thailand and three other teams in Group B. The final round now had 10 teams in total but again, only the top two teams qualified for the knockout rounds. The Indian colts finished last in the table picking up a solitary win against China.
A change in format in the UAE 2002 edition saw 12 teams feature in the Group Stages. The top two from each group and two of the best third-placed teams qualified for the quarterfinal. After a defeat to China in their opening fixture, India defeated Myanmar and played out a stalemate with UAE to register four points in three games. This enabled them to qualify for the quarterfinals as one of the best third-placed sides. However, a 3-1 defeat to South Korea ended their campaign at this stage.
The 2004 Japan edition saw an expansion to 16 teams in the final round. The 16 teams were sorted into four groups, with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the quarterfinals. The Indian colts were drawn alongside Iran, Kuwait and Malaysia. Two losses and a win (over Malaysia) meant that they finished third in the group and were eliminated.
After failing to qualify for the competition in 2006, the Indian colts next took the pitch in 2008 in Uzbekistan. Like their 2004 campaign, India could only manage a third-place finish after defeats to South Korea, Syria and a win over Indonesia.
The 2012 edition was one to forget for India. The colts finished last in the group on both occasions. India hosted the tournament in 2016 but a 3-3 draw against Saudi Arabia was their best result in the group stage.
It would be fair to label India’s performance in the 2018 AFC U16 Championship their best in history. Grouped alongside Indonesia, Iran and Vietnam, India qualified for the knockout stage after remaining unbeaten in the Group Stages. They beat Vietnam and played out goalless draws against the other two teams to finish as runners-up in the group.
Yet again, it was South Korea that ended India’s campaign in the tournament with a 1-0 win in the quarterfinals. That they conceded just one goal throughout the tournaments throws light on the top-notch and well-disciplined defending that was on display.
When the youngsters take the field in Bahrain later this year, they will do well repeat or better their performance from the previous edition. A strong statement following a tremendous qualifying campaign in which they won two games and drew one game with a goal difference of +10 provides the fans with reasons to be optimistic about the team.