National Men's Team U20
Cultivating ‘footballing culture’, India U20s prepare for SAFF and AFC qualifiers
05 Jul 2024

Soumo Ghosh 
AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: The India U20 Men’s National Team are back in camp once again, as they look to build their defence for the SAFF U20 Championship, and beyond at the continental level, where they will play the AFC U20 Asian Cup Qualifiers.

India, who won the SAFF U20 Championship in 2022 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, have been placed in Group B this time, alongside Bhutan (August 17) and the Maldives (August 23). Their SAFF campaign begins on August 17.

The Blue Colts camp started with a 28-day trial phase, where the coaches evaluated around a hundred players, subsequently narrowing the squad to 36 players.

Head coach Ranjan Chaudhuri said: “We have had a good trial phase so far, and now it is time for us to work on the boys that we have narrowed down upon. Ultimately we will have to further narrow down the squad before the SAFF championship and the Asian qualifiers.” 

“Now we have to get every individual accustomed to how the team play, and on how they can inculcate their playing styles to help the collective,” said Chaudhuri, who has had the experience of coaching the likes of East Bengal and the Bengal Santosh Trophy team. “We have been sharing our own experiences with the boys as well, but we are also careful to only feed them as much information as they can take.”

Chaudhuri believes it is his mission to get as many of these boys prepared for the top level as possible.

“We have been SAFF Champions before. So, we are expected to win the title again. However, that is not the ultimate target,” said Chaudhuri. “I believe it is important for us to cultivate a good footballing culture within this team, and ensure that we provide them a platform from which they can eventually be put in a supply line to the senior national team.”

However, a certain amount of pressure is inevitable as the India U20s have the defending champions tag on them.

“You are bound to feel the pressure at this level as the defending champions. India are always favourites in SAFF,” said Chaudhuri. “Few of the boys will now learn about that pressure and how to deal with it, but many have already faced it as they have played the SAFF junior championships at various levels before.

“I try not to let the players think much about things that are going on outside the field. We are trying to keep their focus on the SAFF and the Asian qualifiers,” he said.

After the SAFF U20 Championship, the India U20s will instantly begin their preparations for the AFC U20 Asian Cup Qualifiers, where they have been drawn with Mongolia (September 25), IR Iran (September 27), and hosts Laos (September 29).

“Of course, our focus right now is on SAFF. But we have one eye on the AFC qualifiers as well. The two tournaments will be played quite close to each other, and we will only have a few weeks after the SAFF U20 final (August 28),” said Chaudhuri.

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