A year and a half of hard work, toil, and much anticipation are about to come to an end, as the Men’s U-17 Indian Football team begins their AFC U-17 Asian Cup campaign at the Thammasat Stadium, in Pathum Thani, where they are set to face off against Vietnam in their opening match of the competition.
India head coach Bibiano Fernandes, having already come close to the semi-finals in the 2018 edition of the tournament, stressed the importance of inculcating a winning culture in the boys.
“Of course, improvement in the players is key, but winning is always important. We want to develop and cultivate top players, and we cannot do that if we are not winning,” said Fernandes.
“Winning matches and qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup is most important. If we don’t play the World Cup at this age, we can’t develop as a footballing nation. Development is on our mind, but we also focus on winning.”
India had previously faced Vietnam in the 2018 edition of the competition (then known as the AFC U-16 Championship), a match that they won 1-0 after an 86th-minute penalty by Vikram Partap Singh. Recalling the match, Fernandes said, “We had played Vietnam in 2018 in the group stage, and it was a great experience for the boys. We were able to build on that result and went on to secure two more qualifications for this tournament.
“We’ve had more talented players coming in since our grassroots are getting better every year, so we are hoping for a very good game this time too,” he said.
India has trained in Spain and Germany for the last month and a half, playing training matches against the youth sides of some of the best clubs in the world, like Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Getafe CF, UD Levante, VfB Stuttgart, FC Augsburg, and many more. Although the results have been quite positive for the Blue Colts, Fernandes feels that Group D of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, where they have been clubbed together with Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and Japan, will be an altogether different affair.
“We have some very good practice matches in Europe, where we played some top-quality teams. However, we know that competition is a competition, and the matches will be different,” he said. “We know the level here.
“All three of our opponents in the group stage are regulars in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, so we’ve had a plan and have prepared likewise for this competition,” said Fernandes. “Vietnam is a neighbouring country, and they will probably have some fans in the stands, so we have also trained the boys to perform under pressure and noise from the stands.”
Vietnam head coach Hoang Ahn Tuan showed a lot of respect to his opponents on the eve of the match and feels confident about his team’s chances.
“The match against India will be important for us. I show my deepest respects to all the teams participating in this group,” said Tuan. “We just want to say that we are placed very well. We respect Uzbekistan, Japan and also India. I also don’t think about who is the strongest team in this group. So we will go on to give our best performance in this competition.”
Vietnam is tipped to have the backing of the crowd against India, and Ahn Tuan intends for his side to make full use of that.
“To be honest, I don’t feel the pressure because of the fans coming. In fact, with more fans, we will feel more satisfied and relaxed for the match and I hope that the players will feel the same as myself. But it is not easy to predict the youth-level mentality and I hope when the fans come tomorrow, we will hold a good account of ourselves,” he said.
India’s match against Vietnam at the Thammasat Stadium in Pathum Thani, Thailand, will kick off at 5.30 PM IST and will be streamed live on Jio TV.