Minggu, 23 September 2012

AFC U-16 Championship: India face Uzbekistan in opener

The India Under-16 boys open their campaign in the AFC Under-16 Championships against Uzbekistan today at the Rah Ahan Stadium in Tehran. The other two sides in Group D are Syria and neighbours China.

But India have bad memories of the Uzbek youngsters, then in the qualifiers last year in Tashkent they had been trashed 9-0 by a very talented young Uzbek side. This is surely something which head coach Colm Toal and his boys will want to avoid and get a better result today.

India who earned a ticket for the final phase in October 2011 in Tashkent, stay clubbed with Uzbekistan, Syria and China in Group D. The top-two from each Group qualify for the Quarterfinals while the four semifinalists get a direct entry into the U-17 World Cup. On the surface that means, India stay 4 matches away from a spot in the World Cup.

Former Indian National Coach Rustam Akramov is currently the Director of Uzbekistan's National Teams and speaking about their Under-16 the elder statesman says, "We have trained for 73 days abroad for the Championship and have played 24 International matches. This U-16 bunch of ours stays more tactically organised than our U-19 batch."

"International exposures at this age matters. Uzbekistan go into the match with more confidence than us," Colm Joseph Toal utters. "But we will be competitive!"

The Indian boys always move in a group. Speak to them but it's hard to make them speak. All they understand is that they stay on the threshold of history and need to perform to their potential. "From the batch of 2008 (last time India played AFC U-16 Championship), Lalrindika Ralte, Manandeep Singh and Shilton D’Silva made already played for India," Toal recollects. The Under-16 boys enquire about India's performance in the AFC U-22 Championship qualifiers. Dika, Milan, Manandeep were all part of that.

"I feel, at this level, you can never be consistent. It's all about the age. They are not even 16," Akramov says. "We have had exceptional days and even below average ones. At this age, the heart plays a big role. Everything stays so unpredictable."

There's always a bit of restlessness yet calm about Colm Toal. He checks every minute detail and stays the first one to arrive down at the lobby for the practice sessions. Having earlier coached China and Uzbekistan, he knows their footballing structure, the age-group teams more than anyone else.

It's hard to judge whether the boys love or respect him more. Toal smiles. "We need to be competitive and we will," he murmurs. The boys can't hear him this time. With a ball in their hands, traffic obstacles force a halt every second minute. The journey stays long. The Rah Ayan Stadium awaits today.

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