New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) Less than two weeks after the India Under-16 football team finished runners-up to Japan in the five-nation WAFF U-16 Championship, the squad will be participating in the tri-nation Istanbul Cup in Turkey as part of their exposure for next month’s AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018.
The Indian boys will be playing Turkey and Oman in the tournament, and play another friendly match with U-16 Besiktas before returning to India.
From January this year, the team has so far played 19 international matches against U-16 national teams including the likes of US, Norway, Japan, Serbia, Iraq, North Korea, China (U-17), Thailand, Jordan amongst others.
“With us playing Oman in Turkey, the boys would now have played 9 of the qualified 16 teams (including India) for the AFC U-16 Championship. The quality of matches we played during the exposure tours will help the coach and the players in the long run as these are the countries which we will be playing often at the Asian level,” national team director Abhishek Yadav said in a AIFF statement.
The boys, who recently drew a lot of praise from India senior team skipper Sunil Chhetri, have played friendly matches against all the teams in Group A of AFC U-16 Championship (Malaysia, Japan, Tajikistan and Thailand) and three from Group B (DPR Korea, Yemen, Jordan) plus Iraq in the last 8 months.
Head coach Bibiano Fernandes felt playing against Turkey and Oman will further enhance the confidence of the boys prior to the “acid test”.
“We look forward to playing against Turkey who have played the FIFA U-17 World Cup a few times including the last edition in India in 2017. Furthermore, as Oman are part of the AFC U-16 in Malaysia, nothing could be more appropriate build-up for us,” he stated.
Turkey’s youth development system has always been touted as among the best in Europe with the country having won the European U-17 Champions in 2005, and had finished semi-finalists in 2008, 2010 and 2017. They were also the European U-16 champions in 1993 having finished runners-up the next year in 1994.
Oman on the other hand have won the AFC U-16 Championship twice in 1996 and 2000 and had reached the quarter-finals the last time the Championship was played in Goa in 2016.
At the AFC U-16 Championship, India have been clubbed with strong contenders Iran, Vietnam and Indonesia in Group C and begin their campaign on September 21 against Vietnam. The four semi-finalists from the competition earn a direct berth to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2019.
India’s match schedule in Turkey stay as follows:
ISTNBUL CUP: August 20: India U-16 vs Oman U-16; August 22: India U-16 vs Turkey U-16
FRIENDLY MATCH: August 25: India U-16 vs Besiktas U-16.