India were clubbed with Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan in Group C at the official draw for the AFC U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020 held at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
The four semi-finalists of the competition will earn a direct qualification to FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2021.
India qualified for the U-16 finals when they finished as Group B champions in Tashkent from a group which had Uzbekistan (hosts), Bahrain and Turkmenistan. The Indian colts finished with 7 points from three matches scoring 11 goals, while conceding 1.
This is India’s third consecutive qualification in the AFC U-16 finals, and ninth overall.
India U-16 national team head coach Bibiano Fernandes stated that the “boys are looking forward to it”.
“I don’t like to pre-empt any expectations prior to the start of the competition. At this level all the teams are tough to play against. We as a team have improved over the years. I’m sure that the boys – much like myself, are looking forward to it.”
Incidentally, the Indian colts had faced Uzbekistan in Tashkent in the qualifiers in 2019 where it had ended 1-1.
“When we last played Uzbekistan in Uzbekistan, we discovered that they were such a composed side. There’s a long gap between the qualifiers and the U-16 finals and it’s understandable that they have had ample time and opportunity to improve as a team. But we are ready for the challenge,” he told the-aiff.com.
The current batch will head to the Championship in Bahrain on back of some amazing results last year that saw them net a whopping 28 goals (without conceding any) from five matches on their way to the SAFF U-15 Championship title. The boys currently stay unbeaten in eight international matches.
In the last edition in 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, the U-16 boys stayed a win away from a direct qualification into the FIFA U-17 World Cup when they lost to Korea Republic by a solitary goal in the quarterfinals. That was India’s second entry into the quarterfinals, the earlier being in 2002.