Goal.com's Ayush Srivastava introduces you to the logic behind these qualifiers and what awaits the winners, along with a look at India's opponents in the group....
Arthur Papas takes charge of his U-22 wards for the first time, when India kick-off their AFC U-22 qualifiers campaign in Muscat, Oman against Lebanon. It will be a litmus test for the Australian, as in a few weeks time, he has had to mould the team into his style of football, which was a huge task, considering that the vast majority of the players come from Pailan Arrows, who although featured regularly throughout the season in the I-League, did not “play” much football.
Jeje Lalpekhlua will lead the side, which has been grouped alongside Asian giants like Iraq, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, hosts Oman and of course Lebanon.
The opener against Lebanon will be crucial, considering that after India, they are the lowest ranked side in the group, ranked 143rd in the FIFA rankings.
The U-22 side have shown decent form in their warm-up matches. In the first game, India Under-22 drew 2-2 with African All Star Diamond FC before winning the second match 4-1 against the star studded Emirates Dnata team, which included former Iranian international Behroozian.
Goal.com gives you information about the tournament and what they are fighting for:
The teams taking part in the AFC U-22 qualifiers are vying for one of the 16 berths in the inaugural AFC U-22 Asian Cup, which shall take place in January 2014 at a venue yet to be decided.
The idea for this championship was first put forward on 23rd November 2007 to the Organising Committee for Youth Competitions, as a way to aid youth development and solve the issues relating to insufficient FIFA match dates.
The AFC Competitions Committee meeting held on 28 July 2008 decided that the first edition of the Competition shall be in 2013, which was subsequently postponed to 2014, with the Qualification event in 2012.
All AFC member associations can take part in the Championship, though they would have to go through a qualification process, through which 16 teams would advance to the Final Championship.
The Test Is Upon Us
The draw for the qualifiers was held on 14 February 2012 at AFC House, Malaysia. Similar to other age-limit national team competitions, the draw was conducted on Zonal Basis for West (West & Central / South Asia) and East (East & Asean). Since it is the first edition of the Competition, the rankings of AFC U-19 Championship 2010 was applied for the seeding of teams during the draw.
In total there are 41 teams taking part in the qualifiers, which have been divided into seven groups, from which the top two sides get direct entry to the finals of the competition, where they would be joined by one best third placed side side from the entire qualification process as well as the hosts, who get direct entry.
The Competition will replace the Olympic Football Tournament Asian Qualifiers and as the second biggest national team competition after AFC Asian Cup, it is expected to attract a lot of attention from sponsors, fans, media and increase the overall value of AFC Competitions.
India’s group rivals:
Iraq – The 2007 Asian Cup winners have an equally formidable youth side. Ranked 74th in the world, the Lions of Mesopotamia had even reached the semi-finals of the 2004 Olympics, losing narrowly to Italy in the Bronze medal play-off.
The present batch is also a tough unit, with the u-23 side, from which the U-22 squad is largely expected to be drawn, having won 1-0 against Uzbekistan and drawn 0-0 with Australia in their last two games, both of which were part of their Olympic qualification campaign.
Turkmenistan – The Green men are another side ranked much higher than India, with a FIFA ranking of 138. While they have never been one of the bigger sides of the continent, their junior team has improved in similar fashion as their senior side, having made the second round of the Asian Games for the first time in 2010.
However most of that squad is over-age for this Championship, and thereby the 23 man squad for these qualifiers is slightly inexperienced.
United Arab Emirates – This is one side the Indians will have seen a bit of, having trained in the same facility as the UAE U-22 side.The AFC U-19 Champions and Asian Games silver medalists, The White’s are one of the rising forces of Asian football, having even cemented their place in the Olympic Games of 2012.
With the U-23 side preparing for the Olympics and presently training in Switzerland, the U-22 side is missing some of its key players, however having won the AFC U-19 Championship in 2008, they have no shortage of talent coming through their ranks and will be one of the favourites to get through the group.
Oman - With a FIFA ranking of 97, Oman’s star is firmly on the rise, and this has been helped by a strong youth structure. They narrowly lost out on Olympic qualification this summer, losing to Senegal in a play-off for a berth in London. With some of them part of the team taking part in the qualifiers, Oman will definitely fancy their chances of making the Final rounds, especially since they are hosting the event.
Lebanon – The Cedars are possibly the weakest side in the group after India. Having never won or done anything notable in any major championship, Lebanon is largely an unknown quantity, and India would look to get something out of the match, with their first game being against the 143rd ranked side in FIFA Rankings.
A look at the key players, whom India shall rely on against these five sides:
|Jeje Lalpekhlua – Undoubtedly the star of the side is the Captain. Already an established senior team member, the Pune FC striker is perhaps at the moment the best Indian goal poacher around and will be expected to spearhead the attack for the U-22 side and lend some vital experience to the team. Big question marks around his match fitness are still there, having missed a significant part of the latter stages of the season and the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal due to an injury.|
Lalrindika Ralte – The former Indian Arrows midfielder is another one of those players who are now regulars in the senior side. Papas however will be grateful to have his services for this tournament, as Ralte is one of the few Indian midfielders who are always comfortable and confident on the ball.
Blessed with quick thinking, good movement and vision alongwith quick feet, the Churchill Brothers player could well be the advanced playmaker that makes this side tick. How he links up with his close friend and former club team-mate Jeje will be crucial to the team’s fortunes. It also remains to be seen whether Papas shunts him out wide or gives him a central playmaker spot in his 4-3-3 formation.
Manandeep Singh - Another one of the players who are on the fringes of the senior team, Manandeep, who blossomed last season while playing for Air India, will be another vital member of the side. A good physical presence, the former Indian Arrows player is also a very mobile, who alongwith an eye for goal, brings good work-rate and movement to the side.
Not the most talented player on the ball, Manandeep is still very handy to have in your starting eleven. With his future still uncertain, a good display here could see him pick up a bumper domestic contract, and possibly earn him another call-up to the senior side.
Abhishek Das – Das is the last player remaining from the defense that constituted Desmond Bulpin’s U-23 National side, with the likes of Raju Gaikwad and Gurjinder Singh now members of the senior side and Arnab Mondal not eligible for the U-22 competition. Therefore the East Bengal defender’s experience will be ever more valuable to the side, with the rest of the defense largely being inexperienced at this level.
Having not featured much in the I-League last season, the right back will be raring to go here to prove his worth to the side and will be another vital component of Papas’s side.
What the coach says:
|“There have been subtle changes in the overall playing philosophy over the course of two weeks. It’s mostly based on developing a style which emphasises on ideas when we stay in possession of the ball. The idea is to be patient and wait for the correct moment for the build up or for example aim to penetrate from deep.”|
The 23-member Indian squad:
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Vice-captain - East Bengal), Ravi Kumar (Pailan Arrows), Soram Poirei Angamba (Shillong Lajong FC).
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Vishal Kumar, Souvik Ghosh, Prathamesh Maulinkar, Deepak Devrani (all from Pailan Arrows), Narayan Das, (Tata Football Academy), Abhishek Das (East Bengal).
Midfielders: Pronoy Halder, Ognam Milan Singh, Thirthankar Sarkar, Alwyn George, (all from Pailan Arrows), Simranjit Singh (Tata Football Academy), Ganeshan (Pune FC), Deepak Prakash (HAL), Lalrindika Ralte (Churchill Brothers), Shaiju Mon (Chirag Kerala), Romeo Fernandes (Dempo FC).
Forwards: Holicharan Narzary, (Pailan Arrows), Jeje Lalpekhlua (Captain -- Pune FC), Manandeep Singh (Air India).