After getting out of the group stages of the AFC U-16 Championship for the first time in 16 years, the Indian U-16 National Team is aiming high. As they stay one win away from qualification to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2019, the squad is apprehensive about the gravity of the situation and the challenge that lies ahead.
In an exclusive interview, Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes talks at length about India&aute;s performance in the group stages, opponents Korea Republic, the defensive cohesion, the sacrifices and a lot more. EXCERPTS:
You are one match away from the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Everybody in the squad including the staff knows the gravity of our quarter-final bout. The boys have sacrificed a lot for these coming ninety minutes and have worked tirelessly day in and day out for the same. This is the moment that they have been preparing for, almost their whole lives till now.
The gravity of the moment is immense and everybody is apprehensive of what it means and what it can mean for Indian Football.
Will Korea Republic be challenging?
Korea Republic are one of the teams touted to win the AFC U-16 Championship and the match against them will be the most challenging ninety minutes that any one of us has ever faced. Korea Republic are the overwhelming favourites.
They are tactically very agile and have swift players in almost all positions who are capable of catching the opponent defence off guard. However, we were underestimated in our 1-0 win over Iraq in the Four-Nation Tournament and we were underestimated in the group stages of the AFC U-16 Championship. But here we are, we will give everything that we have in the match against Korea Republic.
India has never defeated Korea Republic in any format in football.
We are raring to go. It would not be easy but it would be worth it. If we play to our strengths, we can give them a run for their money. We will fight.
Defensively, India has been solid.
We have always believed that a solid defence is the foundation of a football team and thus we have worked hard in our defending and high pressing style of play.
The credit goes to the players for defending as a single cohesive unit and not as individuals and to their intelligent mind-sets. They read the game well for sure.
Are missed chances in front of goal still a major concern?
We are creating chances at will and we created some of the best goal scoring opportunities of the match against both Iran and Indonesia. If we had taken those chances we could have won both matches.
Is finishing a problem?
All of those matches are past and we are working on our finishing in the training sessions. Going ahead we cannot afford to be complacent in front of goal in the knock out matches. That will hurt us very badly.
How do you assess India&aute;s performance in the group stages?
The main thing was to get out of the group stages regardless of the results. After beating Vietnam by a solitary goal, we played out two goalless draws – the first against mighty Iran and against an excellent Indonesian U-16 side. Getting out of the group stage was the primary focus prior to the kick-off and I am happy that the boys performed well and everything went according to our game plan in all three matches.
Most significantly, we got out of the group stage ahead of Iran and that in itself is a huge motivation for us.
How important was the draw against Iran?
Had we had not played a goalless draw against Iran then we would have gone into the match against Indonesia as a must win match. That one point against one of the best youth teams in the region helped us massively in our bid to progress. Looking back, you will always find out that we had more open chances than them, and that speaks volumes.
Iran defeated Vietnam 5-0 in the last group match. That is the quality they possess.
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