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

Host India, all set to make its seventh appearance at the AFC U-16 Championship, will be expecting the home conditions to help them better its previous best achievement in the tournament when it reached the quarterfinals in 2002.

“We have qualified in this tournament on merit and are now looking forward to qualify for the World Cup U-17 next year in India on merit by reaching the semifinals of this tournament,” said India’s chief coach Nicolai Adam.   -  AFC website

India will be look to start with a win when it takes on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its opening match of the AFC U-16 Championship in Group A here at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Fatorda, Margao on Thursday.

Iran and Saudi Arabia will play the inaugural match in the same group.

All set to make its seventh appearance at the AFC U-16 Championship, host India will be expecting the home conditions to help them better its previous best achievement in the tournament when it reached the quarterfinals in 2002.

India, which finished last in the AIFF Youth Cup, had a successful three months training in Germany and Norway, winning 12 out of 19 matches it played. The training has helped the players raise their game by several notches.

“We have qualified in this tournament on merit and are now looking forward to qualify for the World Cup U-17 next year in India on merit by reaching the semifinals of this tournament,” said India’s chief coach Nicolai Adam.

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“We are placed in a tough group along side UAE, Iran and Saudi Arabia and it is always good to play against strong opponents and see where we lie as we prepare ourselves for the U-17 World Cup,” he added.

The coach said that the team would be missing some of its key players during the tournament.

“We are missing five players, who will play next year’s U-17 World Cup, due to injuries and date of birth problem. It is going to be a little set back but we will take this in our stride and play to our potential to reach the semifinals, which is our ultimate goal,” said Adam.

UAE, which is ranked higher than India, was the first team to arrive here and get acclimatised to the playing conditions and the weather. Like India, it will also be making its seventh appearance in this tournament.

UAE coach Hadelmajeed Ibrahim Mohamed Alnemer said the team went to Malaysia in June to prepare for this tournament and played four friendly matches before coming to Goa.

“It going to be a tough tournament as all the teams are equally good and we need to give our best to reach the semifinals in order to qualify for the U-17 World Cup.

“We have never played against India and we do not know their style of playing. Hopefully, we play to our potential and win our first match, which will help us to achieve our goal of qualifying for the U-17 World Cup,” said Alnemer.

Saudi Arabia coach Mohammed Abdullahy A. Alabdali said all the teams except India, who will in any case be a part of the U-17 World Cup on the basis of being the host, will be under pressure to qualify.

“India is the only team which is not under pressure among the other 16, as they have already qualified for the U-17 on the basis of being the hosts. All others need to give their best. We are playing against tough opponents,” the coach said.

Champions and third-place finishers twice in the first five AFC U-16 Championships, Saudi Arabia had won the inaugural edition in 1985 and claimed a second title in 1988.

Making its 10th appearance in this tournament, Saudi Arabia crashed out of the last two editions at the group stage and hence is keen to regain lost glory.

“The expectation back at home is high and we need to win this tournament, which we won last in 1988. We have no problem playing any time as the weather is very pleasant.”

Iran, too, is making its 10th appearance and has won the championship in 2008. It is one of the strong contenders to win the title.

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