AFC U-19 Qualifiers: Ninthoinganba Meetei, Givson Singh upbeat for continental challenge

Ninthoinganba Meetei and Givson Singh are part of India's U-19 team which is riding a wave of momentum after claiming the SAFF championship under Floyd Pinto.

Ninthoinganba Meetei, 18, wishes his parents were present in Kathmandu, Nepal when he was named the player of the tournament in the U-18 SAFF Championships in September. “It was a really emotional moment. I really wished my parents were there with me at the time to share my joy,” says India u-19 winger Meetei.

Heading into the AFC U-19 Championship Group F qualifiers where India takes on Uzbekistan on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, Floyd Pinto's boys are riding a wave of momentum after claiming the SAFF championship. Among the key players in the triumph was Meetei, who scored a goal. 

“The whole team got a real big boost after winning the SAFF Championship and we have got even more confidence,” says Meetei, who made his Indian Super League debut for NorthEast United last month.

The U-19 team is unbeaten in its last eight matches which includes seven wins which resulted in two titles – OFC Youth Development tournament in Vanuatu and the SAFF championship.

This batch of players came together for the first time in May ahead of the Granatkin tournament in Russia in June. India finished last in the 12-team tournament after managing two draws (against Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan) but suffered three defeats (against Russia, Moldova and Tajikistan) from their five matches.

While Meetei has played under Pinto in the Indian Arrows in the I-League for the last two seasons, Givson Singh, 17, made his step up after being coached by Bibiano Fernandes with the U-16 set-up.

On Fernandes’ influence, Givson says, “Bibiano sir taught us how to behave like professionals, communicate with our teammates on and off the pitch and be disciplined. I played for over two years under him and have really improved as a player and person thanks to him.”

Givson, who is an attacking midfielder in the side, credits Pinto for helping him improve his positioning on and off the ball. “I like playing through passes to my teammates,” says the Manipuri, who has modelled his game on Arsenal player Mesut Ozil.

Givson will want to strike an exciting combination with his state-mate, Meetei, who is keen to strike fear into the minds of the defenders whenever he receives the ball.

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17-year-old Givson Singh, made his step up to the U-19s after being coached by Bibiano Fernandes with the U-16 set-up.   -  Special Arrangement

 

“If I can see space in front and even if there are three defenders trying to stop me, I will try to move into a position where I can attack and help create a scoring chance for my teammates,” says Meetei, who admits is a fan of India international and Bengaluru FC Udanta Singh.

Co-incidentally, he shared the same pitch as Udanta on his ISL debut last month. “Whenever he meets me, he always guides and encourages me to do better. He is so humble and it really means a lot to us, youngsters, when such a senior player motivates us.”

Speaking of the qualifiers, Givson says, “It will be a tough challenge against three quality teams but we will give our best and work as one unit in order to make it to the next stage.”

Being away from home and spending a considerable amount of time away from the country is becoming a norm for young Indian footballers.

“Of course, I miss my family,” says Givson, on dealing with hardship of being a youth international. “However, we've all come here to become big players and for that, we have to make sacrifices. Not everyone gets an amazing opportunity to represent their nation at such a young age.”

Meetei says, “It gets difficult at times [being away from home] but I forget my worries when I realise and think about why I am doing what I am doing - it's all for my family.”

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