India draw tough group for AFC U-16 Champs in Bahrain

India, making their ninth appearance in the competition, will face higher-ranked teams. They were unbeaten in the qualifiers.

The Under-16 Indian football team will face Australia, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic in their group matches of the AFC Under-16 Championship in Bahrain later this year.

The draw ceremony was conducted at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. India feature in group C.

The tournament is set to be held from November 25 to December 12. It was originally scheduled in September but got deferred due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

India’s qualification

India had secured qualification for the 19th edition of the biennial youth football competition after topping Group B of the qualifiers played in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in September last year.

Head coach Bibiano Fernandes’ boys remained unbeaten in the group, which also featured Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Turkmenistan, picking up seven points from their three matches whilst scoring 11 goals and conceding just one.

It will be India’s third consecutive appearance in the competition and ninth overall.

India’s previous best showings at the tournament was reaching the quarter-finals in 2002 and in the last edition in 2018.

In good form

The Indian colts will be looking to do better than that in the upcoming showpiece and are in good form.

The prospective batch put up an impressive showing to clinch the SAFF U-15 Championship title last year and are currently unbeaten in their last eight international outings.

Coach Bibiano Fernandes, however, refused to set any fixed expectations from the tournament.

“At this level, all the teams are tough to play against. We as a team have improved over the years. I’m sure that the boys – much like myself, are looking forward to it,” he told the AIFF after the draw.

India were clubbed with Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan at AFC U-16 Championship
India were clubbed with Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan at AFC U-16 ChampionshipIndia were clubbed with Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan at AFC U-16 Championship

The group

India’s group features two former champions in the Republic of Korea and Uzbekistan.

While the former are two-time champions, having won the tournament in 1986 and then again in 2002, Uzbekistan clinched the crown in the 2012 edition held in Iran.

Australia, meanwhile, are three-time semi-finalists, having reached the top four in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Reaching the semi-finals in the upcoming edition of the AFC U-16 Championship will also guarantee qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2021 to be held in Peru.

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