Bhutia lauds effort of Indian U-16 footballers

Kolkata, Sep 22 (IANS) Former India football skipper Bhaichung Bhutia on Tuesday lauded the efforts of the national under-16 team who qualified for Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-16 Championship.

“They displayed a lot of promise and hard work. It’s extremely satisfying that the boys have qualified on their own and credit should be given to them,” the football icon told media persons here.

India defeated Bahrain (5-0) and Lebanon (6-0) at the tournament qualifiers, played at Iran’s Tabriz, to finish second in their Group E engagements on 6 points and in the process qualified as one of the second best placed teams from across the 11 groups.

“They lost just one match but did very well against Bahrain and Lebanon which shows that the team is really shaping up well for the FIFA U-17 World Cup,” he said.

Talking about the national senior team which lost three successive encounters in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Bhutia batted for coach Stephen Constantine who has been facing flak for the team’s performance.

“The Indian team’s performance obviously was not up to the mark but we have to see that Stephen played with many new players.

“We have to give Constantine some more time. I’ve always said priority should always be given to the Indian national team if one needs to improve the game in the country.”

The 38-year-old also harped on the need for improving the level of football in the I-League before acting on the proposals of merging it with the Indian Super League (ISL).

“We have to ensure that the l-League is pushed up until it reaches the level of ISL and then we can think of merging both leagues,” he said.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das has said that the ISL and the I-League football tournaments would be merged in the next two to three years.

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