Despite being chosen as hosts for the 2016 AFC Under-16 Championships, India put in the hard yards and qualified on merit as one of the third best runners-up among 11 groups. Coach Nicolai Adam‘s young team put in a creditable performance beating Bahrain 5-0 and Lebanon 6-0 with a 0-3 loss to Iran sandwiched between the two wins.
India’s positive results brought more good news for South Asian football as their entry on merit enabled the Nepal U16s to qualify for the tournament from Group B. While the results have been excellent, it was more encouraging to see the Indian colts play an attractive style of football, create chances and score nice goals. Further, their performances even drew accolades from opposition coaches:
“India were strong in all departments and surprised and destroyed us on the field.” – Abdulsaheb Abdulnabi, Head Coach, Bahrain U16s
“India dominated completely in the second half. They were more prepared and I feel India were the best team in the group. They were fitter and were better on everything, tactically much superior.” – Gholam Ghader, Head Coach, Lebanon U16s
The performances and results reflect how useful the recently completed tour of Germany has been and the huge impact that Nicolai Adam has had on the setup. AIFF Technical Director, Scott O’Donell, too acknowledged the progress that the team has made:
“It is extremely satisfying that the boys have qualified in their own right for the AFC U16 Championships next year. Credit must go to Nicolai and his staff for preparing the boys so well. The second half of the game against Lebanon was especially satisfying because we absolutely dominated, played some great football and scored some good goals. I was very proud of the boys and their performance.”
However, given that well begun is only half done, O’Donell did mention that is early days yet and the team will need to continue working hard and improving:
“Don’t get carried away. It is still early days. There is a long way to go and while it is great that the supporters are happy (and rightly so), it is important that we remain grounded and continue to support the boys. They are young boys and there will be some hiccups along the way, but I liked what I saw in Tabriz (Iran). The boys are totally committed and focused, as are the staff.”
The team will now travel to Spain where they will get more exposure playing against local Spanish and La Liga youth teams. Overall, the Germany tour, the AFC Qualifiers, the Spain trip and next year’s AFC U16 Championship are all a means to the end goal of putting up a good performance when India host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2017. From the looks of it, the plans seem to be working out well so far. Yet another good day for football in India. Jai ho!