India qualifies for 2018 AFC U-16 Championship
What's the story?
India have qualified for the 2018 AFC U16 Championships set to be hosted by Malaysia. India's place in the tournament was sealed after they held defending champions Iraq 0-0 in their final group game earlier today.
In case you didn't know...
45 teams from across Asia were placed in a total of 10 groups in the qualifiers wherein the 10 group winners from each group would qualify for the AFC U-16 Championships. However, a total of only five runners-up would also qualify for the tournament.
So India had to either finish as winners of their respective group or finish runners-up with a good record against the group champions and the team placed in third place. It may also be noted that if hosts - Malaysia, finish as runners-up in their group then a sixth runners-up place will also be considered for qualification
The heart of the matter
The Blue Colts were handed a rather tough draw and were placed in Group D along with Iraq, Palestine, and Nepal. During the qualifiers, India managed to notch five out of a possible nine points thanks to a 3-0 win over Palestine, a 2-2 draw over Nepal and a goalless draw versus Iraq in the final game of Group D which took place earlier today.
The game between Iraq and India was a crucial one for the Blue Colts as Iraq were already in a dominant position winning their previous two games and only required a draw to finish the group as winners whereas India needed a win to finish as winners and at least a draw to secure their second place berth.
India showcased their determination and quality as they endured a hard-fought 90 minutes that included numerous shots on goal and glimpses of brilliance which included an excellent shot on target from the team's talented midfielder Bekey Oram in the early minutes of the game that forced a crucial save from Iraqi goalkeeper - Al-Hamdani.
The first half ended without any notable clear chances on goal from both sides. However, the second half showed a change in tactics from both teams as India begin pressing while Iraq tried to break down the Indian plays in the middle of the pitch.
The clearest chance of the game once again fell to Bekey at the hour mark where he managed to glide past the defenders and found himself in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, who once again managed to make himself big and apply enough pressure to keep the tie at 0-0.
In the 76th minute with time running out, Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes finally decided to introduce Harpreet Singh who also came on as a substitute versus Nepal and scored a brace to help India earn a point in that game.
Unfortunately, Iraq decided to sit back in the last 10 minutes and started focusing on defending by putting more bodies at the back and the game finally ended in a draw despite India's valiant efforts.
India finished the group with 5 points and a +3 goal difference having scored 5 goals and conceding only 2 during the 3 games and that was subsequently enough to help the Blue Colts earn a spot in the AFC U-16 Championships that will take place next year in 2018.
The current generation which is set to take part in the coming World Cup is said to be arguably the best that the country has produced in some time. And now the U16 team has shown that they are not far behind.
These results show that India truly are heading for a bright future and with a great possibility that the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2020 be held in India, the current U17 crop will be hard pushed by these talented youngsters in the future.