Riding on the momentum they gathered by winning the OFC Youth Development Tournament, head coach Floyd Pinto and the India U-18 football team has set their eyes on the 2019 SAFF U-18 Championship, which kicks-off in Nepal on Friday.
India will use this tournament as a mode of preparation for the upcoming 2020 AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers, where the Blue Colts will take on hosts and the defending AFC U-19 Champions Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan in November.
Narender Gehlot, who became the first player born in the 21st century to score for India's senior team, Jeakson Singh Thunaojam, who scored India's lone goal in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, and Niraj Kumar, who set the stage on fire with his splendid saves in the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship are some of the players to watch out for.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Rohit Danu, and Manish Chaudhary's absence, however, will hurt India's preparations immensely.
Pakistan is the only SAFF member to not send their squad, while the other six countries are divided into two groups of three teams each. Teams which finish first and second in their respective groups will advance to the semi-finals.
Only players born on or after 1st January, 2001 are eligible to represent their country in the tournament.
2019 SAFF U-18 Championship:
Teams: Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka
Date: 20-29 September 2019
Venue: APF Stadium, Kathmandu
20 September 2019: Nepal U-18 vs. Maldives U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
22 September 2019: Nepal U-18 vs. Bhutan U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
24 September 2019: Maldives U-18 vs. Bhutan U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
21 September 2019: Bangladesh U-18 vs. Sri Lanka U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
23 September 2019: India U-18 vs. Bangladesh U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
25 September 2019: India U-18 vs. Sri Lanka U-18 (Kick-off 02:45 p.m. IST)
27 September 2019: Group A winner vs. Group B runners-up (10:45 a.m. IST)
27 September 2019: Group B winner vs. Group A runners-up (02:45 p.m. IST)
Third Place match
29 September 2019: Semi-final 1 Loser vs. Semi-final 2 Loser (10:45 a.m. IST)
29 September 2019: Semi-final 1 Winner vs. Semi-final 2 Winner (02:45 p.m. IST)
Telecast & Live Streaming Details
All the matches of the SAFF U-18 Championship will be telecast on Nepal Television Plus. Online streaming platform, Mycujoo, will also live stream the game for free.
2017 SAFF U-18 Championship Record
The 2017 SAFF U-18 Championship was hosted by Bhutan and held in a round-robin format with five teams- India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka facing each other once. In the opening fixture, Bangladesh pipped India 4-3 as Lalawmpuia, Edmund Lalrindika, and Princeton Rebello's goals went in vain.
But, the Blue Colts came back stronger in the next match, thrashing the hosts, Bhutan 3-0 courtesy a brace by Lalawmpuia and a late strike from Asish Rai.
India continued their winning form as they edged Maldives 2-1 thanks to strikes from Princeton Rebello and Abhishek Halder.
India were leading in the points table and required a win over Nepal to take the honors. However, the Himalayan nation defeated India 2-0 and clinched the championship.
India's 23-man squad for 2019 SAFF U-18 Championships
Goalkeepers: Prabhsukhan Singh Gill (Bengaluru FC), Lalbiakhlua Jongte (Indian Arrows), Niraj Kumar (Jamshedpur FC)
Defenders: Muhammed Rafi (Bengaluru FC), Jitendra Singh (Jamshedpur FC), Akash Mishra (Indian Arrows), Narender Gehlot (Jamshedpur FC), Bikash Yumnam (Minerva Punjab), Sumit Rathi (ATK), Moirangthem Thoiba Singh (Minerva Punjab), Hormipam Ruivah (Minerva Punjab)
Midfielders: Vikram Pratap Singh (Indian Arrows), Ninthoinganba Meetei Khumanthem (Northeast United FC), Tankadhar Bag (Sports Hostel Odisha), Givson Singh Moirangthem (Indian Arrows), Ricky John Shabong (Indian Arrows), Jeakson Singh Thounaojam (Kerala Blasters), Ravi Bahadur Rana (Jamshedpur FC), Lalrampana Pautu (SAIL Football Academy), Vanlalruatfela Thlacheu (AIFF Academy)
Forwards: Aman Chetri (Chennaiyin FC), Manvir Singh (Ozone FC), Gurkirat Singh (Indian Arrows)
Head Coach: Floyd Pinto