India U-16's impressive run under head coach Bibiano Fernandes continued as the Blue Colts earned a ticket to the 2020 AFC U-16 Championship on Sunday.
Extending their unbeaten run to 14 games, India held Uzbekistan 1-1 to secure the top spot in Group B of the qualification round.
Bibiano's team started their campaign with a 5-0 thumping of Turkmenistan. They followed it up with another 5-0 scoreline, this time against Bahrain, and put themselves in the driving seat for qualification going into the third and final matchday. India only needed a draw to qualify as group toppers and in the end, it was a job well done in Tashkent.
The last time India qualified for the AFC U-16 finals, in 2017, India were second in their group, two points behind Iraq. The team managed to reach the quarterfinals in the tournament in the following year and missed out on FIFA U-17 World Cup qualification by a whisker. Two years later, the current U-16s have not only topped their group but have scored 11 goals and conceded just one. India were better prepared this time around as a result of extensive planning and its execution behind the scenes.
The team's head coach, Bibiano Fernandes has excelled at motivating the youngsters and the squad, as a whole, has responded well on the pitch. Off the field, the head coach, alongside AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das and national team director Abhishek Yadav have ensured that the build-up to the qualifiers is well-thought-out.
India have played 42 matches since February 2019, of which 14 fixtures have been international games. This run included exposure trips to Italy, Slovenia, Thailand and Turkey. The results have also seen a massive improvement, with India's unbeaten run of 14 games including a 7-0 demolition of Nepal in the SAFF U-15 Championship final.
AIFF's plans for the young footballers are in full motion and with a clever and composed tactician like Bibiano Fernandes leading the project, India are reaping the rewards.