India U-17 head coach, Bibiano Fernandes, spoke to the media ahead of their first match in the much-awaited AFC U-17 Asia Cup hosted by Thailand. The young Colts will be up against Vietnam in the first fixture on 17th June at the Thammasat Stadium in Thailand at 5:30 Indian Standard Time.
Bibiano spoke about the mood inside the camp, preparations, mentality of the boys, opponents, and much more. Here are the excerpts from the interaction.
The boys have had exposure tours within Asia and Europe, with big names like Atletico Madrid U16 and Real Madrid U17 striking out the list with a victory and a draw among other learning stints.
“In Germany and Spain, we played high-level matches which helped us both on and off the field. From there, we came to Thailand 15 days before, which helped us acclimatize to the climate. The pitches and the training facilities were also really good to use to our advantage. We are here, and the boys are ready. They’ve worked very hard for this and are looking forward to this match.”
Bibiano has been leading India’s young sides for a couple of years now, and talking about their opponent for the first clash, he said,
“We played them (Vietnam) in 2018 also in the group stage, and they had a very good team at that time. No doubt Vietnam always has had very good competitive youth teams. India has also qualified for the AFC Asian Cup three times, doing well since the grassroots programs have been started, and more and more talented youth players are showing up. This time also, we have a very good team, and it will be an interesting match tomorrow.”
Team India will be facing Japan and Uzbekistan later in the tournament. He spoke highly of the other opponent sides as Japan were the champions in 2018. Both Japan and Uzbekistan have good names with their youth setups and are strong teams, but Bibiano stressed the winning mentality by saying,
“For every match, the objective is to win.”
Bibiano’s boys in 2018 were inches away from qualifying for the U17 World Cup when they had to bow down to South Korea in the quarter-finals. With that wound fresh in mind, the coach explained the vision, learnings, and preparations this time.
“The experience that we’ve got from the 2018 batch, with that team, we reached the quarter-finals. The preparation that we have this time, we played against the best teams in the world. Those results, plus the other matches also, where we had good results, although there were some matches we didn’t get good results, the preparations were what we wanted. We wanted the boys to take not only physical training but also training their brains to get stronger and better. All those scenarios which we came across in Europe have helped us. The experience the coaches had in the last two qualifiers, in 2018 as well as with the last batch, also, we qualified as group winners in Uzbekistan. All that has helped us to become better and apply it to this team, and you can see this team is very well prepared. They showed some good promise in the European exposure as well, which gives me hope and belief that these boys are ready for this competition.”
Reminiscing about 2018 against South Korea, Bibiano said,
“It’s been a long gap between 2018 and 2023. So much learning from that match till today. Along the road, the mistakes we made, especially starting from scouting programs. How we want to scout the players, what type of players are needed at this level, all those experiences, we’ve applied for this game. We made some mistakes along the way with the first group, the 2018 batch, as well as in 2020. Here we are, and we will make mistakes, but we are getting better and better. This group is much, much better than the previous groups. There’s nothing wrong with the talent in India; it’s just the experience and the learning that we have got from the last two batches.”
The coach said that he still remembers how Team India was close to qualifying for the World Cup. However, he made it clear that the objective is to take one match at a time and qualify for the World Cup, learning from past mistakes.
When asked about development and results, Bibiano stated,
“I believe developing and improving players is also the key. But the most important thing for me is winning. If we have to develop a world-class player, we need to play World Cups at this level – U17, U20 World Cup. So winning is also important, qualifying for the World Cup is important. We cannot develop players if we don’t play at this level. Winning is important for me. Yes, of course, development is also in our mind, but we also focus on winning with these boys.”
Manipuri players have always been at the top when it comes to football, but the recent unrest in the state has taken all of us in shock. Talking about the boys’ part of the team, the coach said, “We’ve been constantly in touch and talking every day with the boys, asking them about their families back home. What we can do from here is show them love and care and our support so that they are more comfortable and focused on the competition.”
When asked about the lack of competitive match experience and more friendly games, Bibiano implied that the boys have played and trained with their exposure tours and qualifiers in such a manner that they’ve been set up to achieve targets and play competitively in every match. The coach also said that the players have been together since last February, and the boys have been improving. He has his core team all set for the matches.
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