The Chennaiyin FC U-18 boys are all set to begin their Hero Elite League (U-18 Youth League) final round challenge against Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYS) at the Don Bosco Ground in Goa on January 28 at 9 AM.
Their two other opponents in Group B are defending champions Shillong Lajong and Minerva Punjab, whom they play on January 30 and February 1 respectively at the Nagoa Ground.
This is the CFC U-18s' debut appearance in the final round in just their second year of participation, having won the Chennai zone with an unbeaten record of six wins and two draws.
The CFC squad comprises eight players from Tamil Nadu and two former U-18 Youth League winners in Ajin Tom and Joysana Singh, who won the 2016-17 title with the AIFF Elite Academy.
"The boys showed their talent in the Chennai zone and have deservedly qualified for the final round. However this will be a much bigger challenge as they will be up against stronger opposition like RFYS, Minerva and Shillong Lajong, who were last season's U-18 champions.
"Our boys will be ready for the challenge, having trained hard in Goa during a three-week camp that saw them feature against Goa Pro League teams like Vasco SC and Sporting Clube de Goa with our B team boys prior to the start of the 2nd Division League campaign. I wish the U-18s all the very best for the final round," said Syed Sabir Pasha, CFC's Technical Director of Youth Development & Assistant Coach.
The 20-man CFC U-18 squad has a mix of talent from around Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country. Eight players from Tamil Nadu are part of the squad, including forward Jaya Ruban (16) from Cuddalore district and goalkeepers S. Lourdhu Divyanathan (Chennai) and Vignesh V (Pudukottai).
Having impressed with the CFC U-15s last season, Jaya Ruban continued his fine form with the U-18s this campaign, scoring three goals in four appearances.
The versatile Ajin Tom and in-form winger Joysana Singh will be aiming to replicate their U-18 title success from 2016-17, this time with CFC.
Joysana is CFC's top scorer so far this season with eight goals in as many appearances, the highlight being a four-goal salvo against RVSS in the penultimate Chennai Zone outing. The squad also includes other AIFF Elite Academy graduates – the CFC U-18s' second highest goal-scorer this season with seven goals Aman Chetri, and Hendry Antonay and Mohammed Sarif Khan; who along with Ajin and Joysana have also featured for the CFC B team in the 2nd Division League.
Hendry is also part of the 25-man CFC squad for the Indian Super League, having been promoted to the senior team at the start of this season.
Four groups of four teams each will contest the final round of the Hero Elite League, with the top two teams from each group progressing to the knockout stages.
If CFC progress from their group, they will face either the winner or runner-up from Group D in the quarter-finals on February 3 at the Don Bosco Ground. The final will be played on February 9 at the Nagoa Ground.
Hero Elite League Final Round - Groups:
Group A: FC Pune City, MSP Football Academy, Sudeva FC, FC Goa
Group B: Chennaiyin FC, Shillong Lajong FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Reliance Football Young Champs
Group C: Bengaluru FC, Quess East Bengal, Delhi Dynamos FC, SAI Guwahati
Group D: Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar FC, Aizawl FC, Real Kashmir FC
Chennaiyin FC U-18s' Hero Elite League Final Round - Group B Fixtures:
Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYS) vs Chennaiyin FC - January 28 - 9 AM - Don Bosco Ground
Shillong Lajong vs Chennaiyin FC - January 30 - 3 PM - Don Bosco Ground
Minerva Punjab FC vs Chennaiyin FC - February 1 - 3 PM - Nagoa Ground
Chennaiyin FC U-18s' Hero Elite League Final Round Squad:
Goalkeepers: Prathamesh Honavarkar (Maharashtra), S. Lourdhu Divyanathan (Chennai), Vignesh V. (Pudukottai)
Defenders: Hendry Antonay (Karnataka), Mohammed Sarif Khan (Manipur), Ajin Tom (Kerala), Selvaniranjan C. (Dindigul), Ajith Arasu (Karnataka), Nishok G. (Ooty), Harsh Bartwal (Uttarakhand)
Midfielders: Kartik Nayyar (Punjab), Yunus Shaikh (Maharashtra), Syed Jaabir Pasha (Chennai), Pradab Balashanmugam (Vellore), Joysana Singh (Manipur), Sanjay S. (Karnataka)
Forwards: Aman Chetri (Assam), Vijay Thangavel (Karnataka), J. Jaya Ruban (Cuddalore), Joy Kumar (Kanyakumari)