AIFF Media Team
BANGKOK, THAILAND: It wasn’t the best of times, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. India’s 0-1 defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan in their second Group D match of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup was heartbreaking, to say the least.
The Blue Colts fought tooth and nail, perhaps better in the second half than in the first but succumbed to a Mukhammedali Reimov strike in the 82nd minute, to lose the match. For the team, however, there is no time to dwell on the defeat.
Head coach Bibiano Fernandes said after the match, "The First thing is to start our recovery. We need the boys to be fresh for the next game.
"The result did not go in our favour against Uzbekistan, but the boys gave it their all, and that’s what you can ask of them in the end," said Fernandes. "We tried to hold them in the first half, but there were certain issues that we faced. We got back well in the second half, and the boys showed full commitment."
Despite the loss, there were a couple of stellar performances, notably that of goalkeeper Sahil Poonia, and of midfielder Akash Tirkey, who came on as a substitute in the second half and helped India make headways into the Uzbekistan area.
"Our defenders had done very well, they blocked so many shots during the match. Right now, it’s just speculation, but maybe we could have blocked the one shot that went, but that happens in football. But all credit to the boys. They fought with huge hearts, and I'm proud of them," said Fernandes.
"We will take a lot of positives from this game. Sahil played extremely well and made so many saves. So, did Akash. We did not start him in this game because we thought that he could make an impact once he came on as a substitute, as a fresh player, and he certainly did that," he said.
As Group D currently stands, Japan and Uzbekistan occupy the top two spots respectively, with four points apiece, while India are in third and Vietnam in fourth, with one point each. The Blue Colts are set to face defending champions Japan on the final matchday of Group D, a match that they have to win, and hope that Vietnam do not defeat Uzbekistan in order to make it to the quarter-finals.
"We are still in the game, and we have a chance to make it, so we keep believing in ourselves," said Fernandes. "Of course, Japan are a strong side and the defending champions, but you never know what might happen on a certain day. If we win, we have a great chance, and we will look for every opportunity to do that.
"Having said that, we still need to improve a lot. If we look back, we could have passed more effectively, and maybe created a few more chances. Finishing is another area that we can improve on," he said. “But this is a brilliant opportunity for the boys to play against a top nation, and they should enjoy it. Japan is a country that qualifies for the World Cup at all levels on a regular basis. It's a rare opportunity, and we want to show how good we are."