India colts AFC U-22 Championship qualifying campaign: A raft of positives

The U-22 team is back home after a solid albeit unsuccessful qualifying campaign in Oman.'s Ayush Srivastava has a look at the positives to be taken from the tournament...

Over the past few days, the performances of the India U-22 have been slightly forgotten, as Sunil Chhetri’s move to Sporting Clube de Portugal’s “B” side has grabbed all the limelight, meaning that the colts have not got their share of coverage in the media.

However the displays of Arthur Papas’s side are far more relevant to the progress of Indian football, and has a look at some of the positives gained from their AFC U-22 Championship Qualifiers in Oman.


India finally got rid of the archaic 4-4-2 formation, which has almost been consigned to history by most modern footballing nation. In its place came a far more flexible formation, which could be said to be a 4-3-3, but under Arthur Papas, it is actually a very fluid system, which demands a lot of running and movement from all the players. It involves holding on to the ball as much as possible, while pressing the opposition on losing possession is also a key component.

The India U-22 team has adapted admirably to the formation, on most occasions outplaying their opponents, something which is not often spoken of an Indian side.


When India’s Challenge Cup squad was named, a lot was made of India’s lack of potent options upfront.

However Manandeep Singh, one of those players criminally overlooked by Savio Medeira, even after having had a brilliant I-League season with Air India, came good for the U-22 side. With Jeje Lalpekhlua only capable of cameos due to niggling injury worries, the former Indian Arrows forward led the line admirably for the young side.

He was ably assisted by Alwyn George, who has to be the find of the tournament, netting goal after goal for the Blue Tigers, and in general impressing with his skills on the ball and general movement off it. The two players must now be given a chance to establish themselves in the senior side, which is in desperate need of some quality.


If it were not for the fact that HAL Bangalore were an absolute shambolic side, the Pailan Arrows would have been under a lot of scrutiny for some truly uninspiring and downright boring performances in the I-League.

Infact the side seemed to have no attacking ambition whatsoever, putting 10 men behind the ball and trying to get a draw. It seemed they just had no hope, as though they gained experienced, their technical skills did not develop one bit.

However Papas has shown that the U-22’s, many of whom are Arrows players, can also flourish when given the license to attack. Hopefully they play with the same spirit, when they return to club football for next season as no one wants to see another performance which shall put the fans to sleep.


One thing that has never been associated with Indian football, and sports in general, is fitness and stamina. Generally one 30 yard run leaves the players gasping for breath with their hands on hips.

Under their new Australian coach though, the U-22 pressed with vigour from start to finish and showed remarkable improvement in their fitness levels.

This has led to the side scoring several goals in later stages in the game, with majority of the time the side scoring in the second half.

Apart from the tie against Oman, the side also showed remarkable resilience and mental strength, not giving up until the end against Iraq and also forcing in a late equalizer against UAE, and as Prathamesh Maulingker pointed out in an exclusive interview with, with the correct mindset, India could go on and beat such sides in the future.


When the Indian side embarked on the trip to Oman, there were fears in several quarters that this side, like their senior counterparts in the Challenge Cup, could come back being blanked by all their opponents.

However in the very first tie against Lebanon, the youngsters put those fears to rest, as they thrashed a higher ranked side comprehensively. While the colts deserve a lot of praise for their efforts, there is no denying as to who is behind this renaissance – The new U-22 coach of the side, Arthur Papas.

The Australian, who is highly regarded in his homeland, has in a few weeks itself, completely changed the way Indian team not only played in a tournament, but also how they prepared for it and how they acted on and off the field.

He must now be given a chance to implement the same regime across age groups, so that these teams are ready to take on better oppositions in the future, and match them in all aspects.

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