The last one-and-a-half year have been quite hectic for India U-17 men's national team. The youngsters have often found themselves in hustle and bustle of various places like Colombo in the SAFF U-17 Championship, in Muscat for practice matches, in Dammam during the AFC U-17 Qualifiers, in Goa during their long preparatory camps, and in European cities like Madrid, Stuttgart and Augsburg for developmental training.
Call them globetrotters but they are an extremely focused lot. With just about a week to go ahead of their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-17 Asian Cup campaign, the India U-17s now find themselves in a rather quiet corner of the world at the Khao Yai Sports Complex here in Thailand, which is completely surrounded by the nothingness of the Khao Yai National Park, All India Football Federation said in a release.
With nothing to distract them for miles, U-17 boys train hard day in and day out ahead of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-17 Asian Cup, where they are set to face Vietnam (June 17), Uzbekistan (June 20), and Japan (June 23) in Group D, the release said.
Head coach Bibiano Fernandes feels that the boys are already acclimatised to the conditions in Thailand and are raring to go.
"The motivation levels are right up there for these boys. They have all been training hard for months and have had the opportunity to play in some of the best conditions for their age," Fernandes said.
"Not only have they been able to play against some of the best clubs in the world, but now they have also been given two weeks to acclimatise to the weather and the pitches here in Thailand, before the AFC U-17 Asian Cup. The focus is optimum for them," he added.
The India U-17s have played two local teams in Thailand, earning comfortable wins in both matches. Fernandes believes that earning respectable results in the practice matches against the junior sides of top European teams like Atletico de Madrid, Real Madrid, VfB Stuttgart, FC Augsburg, and many more, have given the India U-17s the confidence to go out and perform.
"I think a big thank you should go out to the Federation for arranging for our long camps in Spain and Germany, along with matches against some high-quality opponents. The results have mostly been positive, and that has given these boys a lot of confidence that they can take on quality sides in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup as well. I now have a bunch of highly motivated boys, who are dreaming of big things. That is always a good sign as a coach," said the coach.
The release said the current squad of 23 players that have travelled to Thailand for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup is a carefully crafted one that took around one-and-a-half years to build. The current squad has 10 players who were not a part of the squad that secured qualification for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, last year.
The team had been in camp since November last year in Goa, and players from all over the country were brought in as the coaching staff tested them out under various conditions. The 10 that emerged to eventually seal their berth in the squad that will represent India in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup are - Pranav Sundarraman, Pramveer, Dhanajit Ashangbam, Rohen Singh, Omang Dodum, Akash Tirkey, Prachit Gaonkar, Shashwat Panwar, Lemmet Tangvah and Gogocha Chungkham.
"Building this squad took all the knowledge and experience we built from the SAFF (U-17) Championship and the Asian Cup Qualifiers last year," said Fernandes.
"There are some boys who have been here from the start, and others who have joined in after November last year, but it has always been about the long process of building this team."
"The first things that we try to inculcate in these boys once they come into the team are their attitude, behaviour, manners, respect for opponents, and being better human beings in general. That always has to come first. Once that is out of the way, we focus on their acumen on the pitch. Discipline is the main thing for me. If you cannot be disciplined, you cannot excel in any sport. But what was great to see was that the boys who have been in this team for longer have helped the newer ones get into the groove of the team," he added.
Bibiano's boys have a dream to reach the World Cup (the four semi-finalists of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup get direct entry into the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2023), the release said, adding that while some strong teams stand in their way, the India U-17s remain steadfast.
"Oh, the boys are just raring to go. Of course, we have some tough teams in our group, but there are no easy matches at this level. Everyone has come to win and to qualify for the World Cup, and so have we. We will take it one step at a time. The first objective is to get good results and qualify for the quarter-finals. Then it is just one more step from there," concluded the coach.
India U-17s' Squad of 23:
Goalkeepers: Sahil Poonia, Julfikar Gazi, Pranav Sundarraman.
Defenders: Ricky Meetei Haobam, Surajkumar Singh, Mukul Panwar, Malemngamba Singh Thokchom, Pramveer, Dhanajit Ashangbam.
Midfielders: Vanlalpeka Guite, Danny Meitei Laishram, Gurnaj Singh Grewal, Korou Singh Thingujam, Lalpekhlua Ralte, Rohen Singh, Omang Dodum, Faizan Waheed, Akash Tirkey, Prachit Vishwas Naik Gaonkar.
Forwards: Thanglalsoun Gangte, Shashwat Panwar, Lemmet Tangvah, Gogocha Chungkham.
Head Coach: Bibiano Fernandes. (ANI)