AFC U-16 Championship 2018: Exposures according to plan, says India U-16 coach Bibiano Fernandes

Bibiano Fernandes India U16
Bibiano Fernandes
The former India international spoke at length about how the India U16 boys have grown through their experiences abroad

The India Under-16 national team are set to take part in the AFC U16 Championship later this year, under the stewardship of Bibiano Fernandes who helped them qualify last year from a tough group in Nepal. 

As part of their preparations for the tournament, the Blue Colts have so far travelled to Egypt, Dubai, Qatar, Hong Kong and Spain.

In an exclusive chat with Goal, Bibiano Fernandes, the India U-16 head coach, revealed how he along with the AIFF (All India Football Federation) National Team director Abhishek Yadav devised the plan towards the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 finals in Malaysia later this year.

"It was a plan to have the exposure tours to Dubai, Qatar when we qualified (for the AFC U-16 Championship 2018) in September. The AIFF and myself planned that we are going to have exposure tours from January. But I had requested AIFF that initially we will start with easy countries like UAE (United Arab Emirates), Dubai and Qatar where we can start building our team, try out a few players and mould the team. And once UAE and Qatar exposures are finished, then we would start playing better countries," he elucidated.

"So far, it is according to plan," he continued. "Dubai and Qatar were good ones (experience) where we won all the matches. I could try different combinations, different players in different places (positions) and by the end of the Qatar tour I was ready to test the team to their limits.

"After Qatar, we went to Hong Kong where it was a U-17 competition (Jockey Club International Youth Invitational Football Tournament 2018). The Hong Kong U-17 team was fielded along with Chinese Taipei and Singapore. In these matches, I tried giving my boys targets. Every time I set a target and it was achieved."

India U16 starting XI v Chinese Taipei in the Scoreboard at the Jockey Club International Youth Invitational Football Tournament

Fernandes stressed on the importance of playing competitive games over friendly games in order to amp up the preparations. 

"It was a good experience because it was a competition. Playing practice matches and a competition is different. It was a completely different feeling for the players and the staff. It was played in a round-robin format. We beat Singapore, we beat Chinese Taipei and finally we were playing against home team Hong Kong. We beat them (in the final). It was a boost for the players to play a competition and to know that they can win," he explained.

The 41-year-old was also pleased with the infrastructure and facilities back home in India as well.

"Then we came back to India. We had a camp in Kolkata, in SAI (Sports Authority of India) with really nice ground facilities and floodlights. I could train the way I wanted and when I wanted.

"From there we went to Spain to play two tournaments - one was MIC (Mediterranean International Cup) [2018] and the other was the Sport Chain [Cup 2018] which was a four-nation tournament. It was a different experience in Spain."

India U-16 vs IFC Stocksund

Speaking of his boys' experience on the European stage, Fernandes stated, "We could actually see the difference between Asian and European football. Although we won the first match 1-0 against (IFC) Stocksund, it was very tough. That day we came to know what European football is.

"The boys quickly adapted to the European style of play because it's completely different from what we play in Asia. We saw the opponents' videos. In the MIC tournament, the matches were of 25 minutes duration. It was really tough because we had to play (matches) morning and evening. We qualified from the group stage and got knocked out in the quarterfinals."

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Fernandes was particularly impressed by the way his side fared against USA (United States of America) and Norway despite being smaller in stature against their counterparts.

"The other tournament in Spain (Sport Chain Cup) - USA, Norway and Morocco were supposed to come but Morocco did not turn up. We lost the first match against USA 1-0, lost 1-3 to Norway and against lost 1-0 to USA. Playing these matches was a good experience because the matches were not one-sided. We had our chances, they had their chances.

"We played well in the 1-0 loss against USA. We tried to equalise, we got our chances, but that's okay. We take back a lot from there. We are a completely different team after coming back from Spain. Although it makes a lot of difference in physicality, we played really well. We fought till the 90th minute and we got good (fair) results. I'm happy with the boys. Now we're getting ready to go to Serbia."