Sunil Chhetri backs Bibiano’s India to shine at U-16 AFC Championship
Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri and U-16 head coach Bibiano Fernandes are hopeful of a good showing by the Indian boys at the upcoming AFC U-16 Championship in Bahrain.
India have been drawn in a tough group, alongside two-time champions Republic of Korea, 2012 champions Uzbekistan and three-time semi-finalists Australia, and have their work cut out for them if they are to progress beyond the group stages.
India’s all-time highest goal scorer Sunil Chhetri, however, remains positive that the Indian colts can get the job done and even better their quarter-final finish from the last edition.
A fan in Chhetri
“I’m already a big fan of the U-16 team and the Indian Arrows, especially the U-16 team under Bibiano. They look like a really good unit. They have played some really good football and it’s all about continuing the push to improve with every step.
“These boys would want to do better than the previous batch (which reached the quarter-final in 2018),” he commented during a chat with the AIFF.
The 35-year-old, who is currently the second-highest active goal scorer in international football after Cristiano Ronaldo, also noted that the current junior batch’s development will be key to India’s quest to break into the top 10 teams in Asia down the line.
India U-16 football team ready
India junior team coach Bibiano Fernandes, who has been in charge of mentoring the team, meanwhile, was unperturbed by the tough draw and reiterated his confidence in his boys.
“I was following the draw live, but I did not keep any expectations for it. When I saw our group, I told myself that my team has already given a good account of themselves in qualifiers.
“I believe from the bottom of my heart that these boys can perform against the countries in the group,” he said.
Bibiano Fernandes has largely been touted as the architect behind leading the batch to the SAFF U-15 Championships title last year. He followed it by helping the team qualify for the AFC U-16 Championships after topping their qualifiers group, which also included Uzbekistan.
The Indian colts were unbeaten throughout the course of their SAFF U-15 and AFC qualifiers campaign and will go into the main event in November on the back of an eight-match unbeaten streak in international games.
“I’m just the face. My support staff has been with me for four-five years now, and they have been working very hard behind the scenes. They are passionate about their work, and they really take care of the boys. That’s why these kids are playing so well,” he said.
Both Bibiano Fernandes and his boys will aim to reach at least the semi-final stage of the competition, which will grant them an automatic qualification to the FIFA U-17 2021 World Cup in Peru.