AFC Under-16: it’s football fever all over

The AFC Championship is a perfect dress rehearsal for the Under-17 World Cup that India will be hosting next year. This is our chance to stand up and be counted.

Sunil Chhetri (left in pic) is back with the Mumbai City FC for this year's ISL.   -  PTI

There is football all over the place at the moment, and I’m sure you’re working your schedules around games in a bid to stay closest to all the action and joy. But something much closer to home has caught my attention. If it hasn’t yet, it should soon catch your attention too. The AFC Under-16 Championship is underway in Goa and that is where the future of Asian football is on display. Sixteen of the continent’s top junior teams are battling it out and if you happen to be in the beach city, you will be doing good to drop by and catch a few games.

 

While India had the assurance of an automatic qualification to the tournament by virtue of being the hosts, it is encouraging to note that the Nicolai Adam-coached side earned their ticket to the championship on merit, by finishing second in the Group E of the qualifiers.

The cubs won’t have it easy, for they are drawn with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Group A. But from what I have heard, this is a vastly improved Under-16 team we have and I wish them the best.

>AFC U-16: India looking for positive start against UAE

The tournament coming to India is massive in more ways than one. We need to do everything to be seen as a country that loves the sport and is willing to grow in every aspect of the sport, starting with infrastructure. The AFC Championship is a perfect dress rehearsal for the Under-17 World Cup that we will be hosting next year. This is our chance to stand up and be counted, and I am confident the AIFF and everyone involved will rise to the occasion.

A friendly, but an important win

The 4-1 win in the international friendly against Puerto Rico earlier this month was really nice to be part of. There was a lot of talk about fatigue from a long flight taking the sting out of Puerto Rico’s aggression and intent on the pitch. And while it might be true, they weren’t a side that could be run over easily. They are ranked fairly higher above us and are great ball players. But we switched on and turned up for the game and the result was one that we did well to earn. The humidity had begun getting to us and it was a lot tougher than it looked on television. I have always maintained that the more football we play, the better we are going to get.

I would also like to throw in a big thank you to the fantastic support we enjoyed that night in Mumbai. The fans were vocal and singing all through the game and when you are backed like that, it does make a big difference. If I am not mistaken, international football came to Mumbai after a gap of 61 years and the city definitely did enough to ensure that the national team will play there more often than not. The game also saw my Bengaluru FC team-mate Daniel Lalhlimpuia make his India debut and I couldn’t be happier for the boy. He is a hard worker and a very talented striker. In time, he will surely be a name that will pop around a lot.

Mumbai, again

In what has been a rather hectic fortnight, I have signed with Mumbai City FC for the forthcoming season of the Indian Super League. It’s a city I have slowly but surely grown to love and I cannot wait to go back there. I enjoyed the atmosphere the fans in Mumbai created when India played Puerto Rico and I hope they bring the same kind of energy to Mumbai City FC’s matches too.