U-15 SAFF Championships: Host India relying on overseas experience in bid for third title

India, which had managed a third place finish last year in Nepal after losing to eventual champion Bangaldesh in the semifinals, will meet Nepal in the opening match.

India, captained by Anish Mazumder (left), will face Nepal in its opening match in the 2019 SAFF U-15 Championships.   -  AIFF Media

Useful exposure trips in Italy and Thailand hold India in good stead as it aspires to reclaim the SAFF under-15 football championship, starting at the Kalyani Stadium here on Wednesday.

Even in the absence of a quality side and last year's runner-up Pakistan, the tournament is expected to be a keen affair among the development squads of the South East Asian nations – including defending champion Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

India coach Bibiano Fernandes said this would be a good preparation for the AFC Asian under-16 championship qualifier next month.

Fernandez hopes the overseas experience helps first-time host India win the title for a third time.

“We started our prepartion in February. We had an exposure trip to Italy in May. We played against some good teams and made a lot of changes there. We also had a good trip to Thailand (last month), where we fielded the core of the team,” said Fernandez on Tuesday.

While India, captained by local boy and central defender Anish Mazumder, has the advantage of playing in front of the home crowd, the team will have to bear with the fatigue due to the long drive from Kolkata owing to hotel issues here. “It’s a three-hour drive. But we have got gaps and we have to adapt and recover in time,” said Fernandes.

Mazumder was excited to lead the national side in his backyard. "Feels good to be playing at home. We learnt a lot playing abroad. Now we look forward to do well here," he said.

India, which had managed a third place finish last year in Nepal after losing to eventual champion Bangaldesh in the semifinals on penalties, will meet Nepal in the opening match.

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