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India woke up at the WAFF championship

The India U-16 team performed particularly well at West Asian Football Federation championship (WAFF championship) with 3 wins and 1 loss only, including high level games against regular powerhouses of the category in Asia, Iraq and Japan. Some very promising results for the Blue Colts before the AFC U-16 Championship happening in Malaysia at the end of September.

The India U-16 team beat Yemen U-16 3-0 at the WAFF championship

Is it finally the time when the "football sleeping giant", as once India was nicknamed, wakes up? One thing for sure is that the U-16 boys team has been performing incredibly strongly at the West Asian Football Federation championship (WAFF championship) this month.

The Blue Colts have qualified for the AFC U-16 Championship to be held in Malaysia in September (20/09 to 07/10), and used the WAFF championship as preparation for the tournament. And the least to say is that the results have been very promising.

In their opening game, they thrashed the hosts, Jordan, 4-0. A performance which surely gave a lot of confidence to Bibiano Fernandes’s boys before playing a powerhouse of Asia, Japan, a few days later. In a very tight game, India opened the scoring via a penalty before half time, the first goal of an Indian team against a Japanese side for 36 years... "The goal was a very special moment indeed. Of course, we were not much aware of the history but scoring against Japan to take the lead is so much satisfying as a head coach", said the coach Bibiano Fernandes after the game on the AIFF website.

But despite a very strong resistance, the Blue Colts finally lost 2-1, conceding two goals around the hour mark. But the defeat was not bitter, coach Fernandes keeping a positive spirit: "Undoubtedly Japan has been the best Asian team we have played so far. Their confidence on the ball, awareness and passing ability is exceptional. Taking the lead against such an opposition midway into the first-half is a huge motivation for us for the future", he said. “But this is not where the team would stop. We know there are miles to go and these boys have the capability to march on", he added prophetically.

Iraq was the next obstacle, and not a small one: the Lion Cubs of Mesopotamia are the current AFC U-16 Championships holders and a team which systematically performs well at the WAFF championship. Not enough to scare the Indians though. Holding the score to 0-0 the whole game, they scored in the very last minutes to win. Never before had an Indian team won against Iraq across all age-groups.

Bibiano Fernandes, coach of India U-16 team

“It's always difficult to play Iraq because of physicality. However, the performance in the previous matches kept us all confident and I knew my boys would give everything to win this match”, said Fernandes after the game.

But the Indian coach is not someone to rest on its laurels, always hoping for more."There is always room for improvement and we still have a lot of work to do. The hard-fought victory against Iraq was extremely special. The 93rd-minute winner is something that will stay with us. The biggest challenge now is to keep the team focused and hungry for success."

The words of the coach were apparently heard. The last game for the Blue Colts was against Yemen, and they ended their tournament the same way they started: with a comfortable victory (3-0). "They came up with a superlative performance today and executed it to perfection. The tournament has helped us gauge where we stand and we go back much richer in experience", concluded Fernandes after the match.

A satisfaction which is understandable in view of India's quite impressive tournament record: 4 games, 3 wins, 1 loss, 9 goals scored, 2 goals conceded only. And if the team effort has clearly been the most positive aspect of these results, the four goals scored by Vikram Singh - including a hat-trick against Jordan - and the high standard of performances of the goalkeeper Niraj Kumar should be noted.

But if Fernandes is undoubtedly satisfied with his team, his objective goes far beyond. “We need to start believing in ourselves. The team thanks the fans and well-wishers of Indian Football who have always stood by us. Now we have the AFC U-16 Championship at the back of our minds. It’s fast approaching and I pray the boys stay away from injuries.”

India were drawn with Iran, Vietnam and Indonesia in Group C for the AFC U-16 Championship, and the four semi-finalists get a direct ticket to the next edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2019. If the sleeping giant stays awake, he will certainly be one of the underdogs to follow in Malaysia…

Watch the WAFF championship live and on-demand on mycujoo

Photos courtesy of Jordan FA