AFC U-16 Championship 2018: The Xavi experience and more, Bibiano Fernandes revels

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The former Sporting Clube de Goa midfielder spoke of his boys' moment of catching up with the Barcelona legend amid his own maturity with the team

It has been a long journey ever since Bibiano Fernandes was appointed by the AIFF (All India Football Federation) to lead the junior Indian national teams in the year 2014. 

The Goan started off as the India U-14 head coach and there on led his boys into the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) U-15 Championship 2017 in his first official assignment.

"There have been a lot of changes in the team. We had to do scouting one more time and bring in players who were recommended by coaches. There were a few changes by the time the team was formed in May (2015) for the AFC Football Festival in Tajikistan (AFC U-15 Festival of Football 2015 - Central and South Region). Since then, it has been a great experience," Fernandes informed Goal.

"The past coaches also said that this group is the best that we have and that they saw something different in this group. When I took over (as India U-16 head coach) I really saw that. From day one, our target was to win the SAFF [U-15 Championship] and to qualify for the AFC [U-16 Championship 2018]," he added.

Sharing his experience through the last year, Fernandes admits that the team has achieved what he envisioned. 

"When we started in January (2017), it was a great experience. I am actually fortunate to have this group. There is not only one leader but a team of leaders, and that is what makes the difference in this special group which is the 2002-born. So from January to September we were reminding ourselves or our targets and working towards it. 

"When the day came, especially in the SAFF final (India vs. Nepal on August 27, 2017), we were one goal down at half-time - when I asked my boys what they think about the match, they said 'coach, we are going to win'. That gave me a lot of confidence. I didn't have to talk to them much. I had to just motivate them and ask them for one goal. I knew that if we get one goal, we would win the match. The second half score was 2-0 and we went on to win the match (2-1). From there on, I knew this team was something special."

Xavi

THE XAVI EXPERIENCE

When the Indian U-16 national team were camping in Qatar, ahead of the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers, they had a chance encounter with former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez which was one to cherish.

"We were fortunate to witness Qatar and China national teams playing their last [2018] World Cup qualifiers match at the Khalifa [International] Stadium. We were all sitting in the stadium and suddenly our boys saw Hernandez Xavi from Spain who was sitting right behind us. That was a (memorable) moment for the boys and they were half of the time looking at Xavi and forgot about the match.

"One of our staff had to request Xavi for a photo and he was kind enough to come and speak to the boys. He wished them good luck and he took a picture with the full team. It was a great experience for the boys," India U-16 gaffer Bibiano Fernandes narrated.

Recalling the events at the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers in Nepal, Fernandes highlighted the team's hunger to make it one level better in their careers.

"The camp in Qatar before AFC [U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers] was very good. We flew directly to Nepal from there. Nepal was not new to us. We had practised and played matches on the same ground as SAFF [U-15 Championship 2017] was also in Nepal.

"AFC (the qualifiers) was a different experience with Palestine, Iraq and Nepal as the host team (in the same group as India). We had to take one game at a time. The first match against Palestine, we won 3-0. The second match was a challenge because we had beaten Nepal in Nepal in the SAFF and they were motivated to beat us but our boys were determined to win the match and qualify. You could see the hunger in them to qualify.

"We were one goal down in spite of playing well. In the second half, we equalised and scored another goal, but at the end of regular time they (Nepal) scored a world-class goal which was unstoppable," Fernandes relived his side's experience game by game.

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"Then we were playing (against) Iraq. I like to talk to the boys individually and ask them what they think about Iraq. They were so pumped up (that) they didn't care whether it was Iraq or anybody else. They said, 'sir, we will give our everything to qualify'. That is how we got a 0-0 result in that match.

"So that is the story. It has been a great experience. Then Palestine beat Nepal and we qualified as the second-best team in the group," he concluded.

Currently, Bibiano is in Qatar to scout Iran who are in India's group for the main event. He has already started preparations for the U16 championships in September. 

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