New Delhi, September 30: 90 minutes separate the India U-16 national team from qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Peru, 2019. The Indian colts coached by Bibiano Fernandes qualified for the quarterfinals of the ongoing AFC U-16 Championship and now perhaps, the strongest team in the competition Korea Republic stands in between as a barrier.
16 years back in 2002, the then Indian U-16 team had also reached this far – a win away from qualifying to the U-17 World Cup till they faced Korea Republic. India had lost 1-3 on that occasion.
“We know Korea Republic are the favourites and we are the underdogs,” head coach Bibiano Fernandes stated. “They are the overwhelming favourites. But we have been the underdogs since the group-stages and we are banking on the same against Korea Republic,” he added.
India U16 stay a win away from qualifying to the @FIFAcom U17 World Cup. Cheer to #BackTheBlue #WeAreIndia@theafcdotcom U16 Championship quaterfinal live on @StarSportsIndia.— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) September 30, 2018
#IndianFootball #KORvIND #StarsOfTomorrow pic.twitter.com/wt2bS1myNx
“We all know the gravity of the moment and what it will mean for Indian football. But at the same time, we will play without pressure and back ourselves up as underdogs. We will fight. If Korea Republic underestimate us, we shall prove them otherwise and give them a run for their money.”
Korea Republic are already being touted as probable champions having scored 12 goals from their 3 group league matches without conceding any. India have also not conceded a single goal as yet but they will be hit hard with the suspension of central defender Bikash Yumnam for double booking.
“BIkash will not be able to play. There’s no point of sitting back and lamenting. We need to go ahead with what we have. There are other players in the squad, all capable enough,” Bibiano added.
“We all know the quality that Korea Republic possesses and we all know the damage they can do if we get complacent at the back. Our defence has been our strength in this tournament and the players have worked really hard to defend as a single cohesive unit,” he stated.
Building up to the clash, the Indian training sessions have been nothing short of gruelling with special emphasis being given to the finishing aspect. “We have been creating chances and need to convert them. We could have easily won against both Iran and Indonesia. If we get complacent in front of goal, it will end badly for us,” Bibiano pronounced.
Even the players are raring to go and once again prove themselves. “We will give more than our cent percent in the quarters. These are the 90 minutes that we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for,” said skipper Vikram Partap.
“Anything can happen in a football match and anything can happen in the elimination rounds. We cannot predict the future but will play our hearts out to make a dream come true.”
Defender Gurkirat Singh added: “We are ready for them. We know the challenges we will face and the swiftness we will have to deal with. We need to stick to the instructions of the coach.”
India face Korea Republic at the Petaling Jaya Stadium on Monday (October 1, 2018) at IST 6.15pm
Live on Star Sports 2/2HD