A step away from U-17 World Cup qualification, India faces South Korea

Bibiano Fernandes' boys must overcome the tournament's strongest team in the quarterfinal of the AFC U-16 championship, to secure automatic qualification to the U-17 World Cup for the first time.

The India U-16 national team has to defeat tournament favourite South Korea to secure an automatic berth at the 2019 U-17 World Cup in Peru. (File Photo)   -  AIFF MEDIA

Ninety minutes and South Korea separate the India U-16 national team from qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019 in Peru.

On Monday, Bibiano Fernandes' boys must overcome the tournament's strongest team in the quarterfinal of the AFC U-16 championship, to secure automatic qualification to the U-17 World Cup for the first time. It's a deja-vu fixture for India U-16, which reached the same stage of the tournament 16 years ago but lost 1-3 to the same opponent.

“We know South Korea are the favourites and we are the underdogs,” head coach Bibiano Fernandes said. “They are the overwhelming favourites. But we have been the underdogs since the group-stages and we are banking on the same against South Korea,” he added. “We all know the gravity of the moment and what it will mean for Indian football. But at the same time, we will play without pressure and back ourselves up as underdogs.”

“If they underestimate us, we shall prove them otherwise and give them a run for their money.”

READ | India deserves to be in quarterfinals, says Korea coach

South Korea is the tournament favourite, having scored 12 goals from its 3 group matches without conceding any. India, which hasn't conceded itself, will be hit hard with the suspension of central defender Bikash Yumnam.

“Bikash will not be able to play. There’s no point of sitting back and lamenting. We need to go ahead with what we have. There are other players in the squad, all capable enough,” Bibiano said.

“We all know the quality that South Korea possesses and we all know the damage they can do if we get complacent at the back. Our defence has been our strength in this tournament and the players have worked really hard to defend as a single cohesive unit,” he quips.

Building up to the clash, the Indian training sessions have been nothing short of gruelling with finishing being given special attention. “We have been creating chances and need to convert them. We could have easily won against both Iran and Indonesia. If we get complacent in front of goal, it will end badly for us,” he said.

ALSO READ | AFC U16: Emotions high as India aims to make history

The players, too, are raring to go and once again prove themselves. “We will give more than our cent percent in the quarters. These are the 90 minutes that we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for,” said skipper Vikram Partap.

“Anything can happen in a football match and anything can happen in the elimination rounds. We cannot predict the future but will play our hearts out to make a dream come true, ” he said.

Defender Gurkirat Singh added: “We are ready for them. We know the challenges we will face and the swiftness we will have to deal with. We need to stick to the instructions of the Coach.”

The match will be telecast live on Star Sports 2/2HD at 6.15pm IST.