India have been drawn alongside Asian giants South Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan in the upcoming AFC U-16 Championship which is scheduled to happen between November 25 and December 12 later this year in Bahrain.
The official draw for the tournament was held at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. But even though India are clubbed in a very tough group alongside the giants of the continent, the U16 team's head coach Bibiano Fernandes is confident of his team giving a good account of themselves at the tournament.
During an Instagram Live chat with the Indian football team's official page, Fernades revealed that he was not concerned about whom they would be drawn against.
“Before the draw, I had no expectations or any preference of opposition. I was relaxed. When I saw Australia, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan in our group, I thought of my team who have already given an account of them and done well in the qualifiers. I believe in my boys they can compete with any team at any level. I am sure our boys will make us proud.”
The preparations of the India colts were hampered due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting nationwide lockdown but the Goan coach explained that they have been regularly in touch with the players during the lockdown and are focusing on conditioning.
“It has been difficult for us and all over the world but everyone is finding ways to work with the boys. I know some countries have already started training. What we started doing is we had online sessions with the boys thrice a week were we conducted strength sessions, goalkeeping sessions and ball mastering sessions. I know it is not enough but we are keeping in touch with the players. We also used to watch matches of other U16 teams and analyse their games.”
The coach also suggested that even if they cannot play preparatory matches against international oppositions, the team will try to play quality opponents in Goa.
“We are aware of that and we are working on that. It is not in anybody’s hand. Hope the pandemic gets over as soon as possible. The plan is to play matches locally but higher level opponents. We will try to play international matches but if it does not happen, we will play matches in Goa. We can play against the lower ranked pro league teams.”
The former Sporting Clube de Goa player suggested that the standard of youth teams in India is improving with every batch and he is hopeful that in the next few years India will be among the top five teams in Asia.
“If we look at the matches we played the gap is not very big. Last time we lost by just one goal in the quarterfinal. We played against Turkmenistan and Bahrain this time and the gap is not too much. Just a little bit of work on the ground and we will be there. It is just a matter of time before we will be among the top 5 teams in Asia.”