A stern test awaits head coach Floyd Pinto’s India side as they get set to kick off their qualification campaign for the AFC U-19 Championships 2020 – aiming to become the first Indian side to feature in the competition’s main draw since 2006. Drawn in Group F of the qualifiers, they will take on Uzbekistan in their first game on Wednesday, followed by hosts Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
‘The preparations have been really smooth and all the players are ready for the action to begin. We wanted to come here a few days in advance and get a few training sessions in before the tournament starts,’ Pinto was quoted as saying by www.the-aiff.com.
‘It helps because the weather here is really hot and considering that two of our matches kick off at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, it’s important that the boys get used to playing in the extreme conditions. I’m happy with the way they have progressed and confident ahead of our first game against Uzbekistan.’
Pinto’s team has players from India’s FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign in 2017 and the coach said having players together for a long time helps.
There are players such as Prabshukhan Gill, Ninthoinganba Meetei, Jitendra Singh in the team – who have been key members of the Indian Arrows team for the last two years.
‘There are quite a few players in this batch, who were part of the Indian team in the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017 and then the Indian Arrows. As a result, there is a great bonding and feeling of togetherness within the boys. The experience that these boys have gained training together in the last few years has made them tough – both physically and mentally,’ he said.
The Indian side will enter the qualifiers high on confidence after two strong showings in Vanuatu and Nepal, where the team finished first in both the OFC Youth Development Tournament and the SAFF U18 Championship respectively.
‘Winning the SAFF title, especially given the fact it was our maiden one, was a huge boost for the players. The way the team fought in the final was admirable and it has really boosted the confidence level in the team. In our training sessions, we have looked to maintain the same levels of energy and focus, so that we can carry it into the AFC qualifiers as well,’ he said.
On the opposition teams and what would be the gameplan while approaching these games, Pinto said: ‘It’s a tough group to be in and all three teams are of high calibre. Saudi Arabia are the defending champions from 2018 and Uzbekistan also have a good record at the youth level. Afghanistan too did well in the recent CAFA (Central Asian Football Association) Junior Championship.’