Defending champions Pune FC were stunned by All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) Regional Academy, Navi Mumbai 3-1 in an I-League U-19 round four encounter. While winning 3-1, the victory is even more credible given that Sajid Dar’s side comprised of U-16 boys.
The I-League U-19 is the country's premier tournament for the development of footballers at the youth level. The tournament is held in 5 different zones, with two teams advancing from the Rest of India zone, while one team each qualifies from the other four zones.
The other teams in the Maharashtra Zone along with AIFF Mumbai are Pune FC U-19, Mumbai FC U-19, PIFA Sports U-19 and Kenkre SC U-19.
"As expected it was a crucial game for both teams. When you’re playing Pune FC it isn’t easy. They are the defending champions and have won the tournament for the last two years but we played well. But we must start from scratch in the next game and focus properly,” Dar told Goal.
Their next opponents are Mumbai FC who lie at the bottom of the table and Dar refused to take them lightly.
“We play Mumbai FC and we’ll be starting again from zero, building on what we did well and learning from our mistakes. We have to rectify the mistakes because they were there. We want our players to get a chance to show their capabilities.”
The Navi Mumbai based team have taken all by surprise with their standout performances as they are unbeaten in the four matches played. Dar was quick to emphasize that it was a team effort.
"There have been no standout performers in particular. All the boys play as a team and the team has been together for an year now. Everybody plays for the academy - be it either playing in the first eleven or not. Everyone is giving their best. We can only field eleven players but that does not mean the others are not good. Everyone is capable."
He hoped that there are more tournaments for the youngsters such as the I-League U-19 which shall ensure more competitive games.
"I think it is a very good concept. It is good the initiative is taken. For me, there should be other good tournaments like this so that the players can gain exposure at this young age and level. After all, they are the future players for the country."
Dar mentioned that scouts are present to identify talent during these tournaments but added that there was room for improvement.
"Scouts are there all over the country. During these tournaments, the scouts are present. After this the players are identified and trials are held. This is what we have here in Navi Mumbai, we call them (players) from the club and if they are good enough we keep them. If we feel they need more time and are not ready then we ask them to come back later. Currently the scouting system is what it is, and it’s okay. But there is always room for improvement.”
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