Indian Football
Rumble in the jungle: India’s unique preparation for AFC U-17 Asian Cup
14 Jun 2023

Soumo Ghosh
AIFF Media Team

KHAO YAI, THAILAND: The Khao Yai Sports Complex, where the India U-17 Men’s National Team have been camping since their arrival in Thailand ahead of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, is a quaint little campus, located in the valley, as the nearby mountains oversee the training of the Blue Colts.

Under normal circumstances, one would be able to hear the trill of every bird, the squeak of every frog, and once the sun goes down, the chirp of every cricket. However, Tuesday night (June 13) was a complete exception. As the India U-17 boys began training on the rain-soaked evening, a sudden wall of thunderous chants and jeers reverberated through the training ground, causing a few players to shift their attention from the pitch momentarily.

They soon realised that it was the infamous chants of the Vietnam fans that were being played by the team’s staff through a speaker from the sidelines during the training session, something that caused momentary confusion amongst the youngsters.

Head coach Bibiano Fernandes agrees that training in such conditions would help the team play with the same intensity during the matches.

"We experienced such an atmosphere during the qualifiers in Dammam, when we were playing against Saudi Arabia (AFC U-17 Asian Cup Qualifiers," said Fernandes. "The drums were constantly playing, and their fans kept singing throughout the match. Their singing and chanting were only abruptly halted when we scored a goal, but overall, it was a new experience for the boys.

"We have 10 boys in our squad here in Thailand, who were not with us during the qualifiers, and it’s good that they know how to play under such conditions," he said. "So, when our analyst Mishal suggested this method of acclimatisation, we all agreed in unison that this is something that can be done."

Indeed, the India U-17 head coach and his support staff experienced exactly the same in the last edition of the competition, which was known as the AFC U-16 Championship back in 2018. India had faced Vietnam in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in their opening match of the championship, something that they are set to do again in Thailand this time around. It was an 86th minute penalty by Vikram Partap Singh that gave India the lead, and the three points that eventually led to them reaching the quarterfinals.

"We experienced Vietnam fans for the first time in 2018, and it was deafening to say the least. It took some time for the boys to get used to playing in such hostile conditions, so we thought of preparing this batch from before," Fernandes said. "However, we also get decent Indian turnout in the stands wherever we go, so I am hoping that that will be the case this time around as well."

For many of the players, it was a unique experience. Captain Korou Singh Thingujam was perplexed for a while when the training session started.

"I was completely taken aback. Once we started training, they suddenly started blasting the chants and jeers from these giant speakers beside the training ground, and it’s something we’ve never experienced before," he said.

"We faced something similar in Saudi Arabia, but these chants by the Vietnam fans were so loud and so intense that we found it difficult, at first, to communicate between ourselves on the pitch. But I completely see the merit of doing something like this," said Korou.

Goalkeeper Julfikar Gazi was one who seemed to revel under such conditions.

"I absolutely loved it. It gave me the feeling of playing a match in front of a hostile crowd, but it’s also fun when they jeer you, but you perform well," said Gazi. "I felt the adrenaline in my veins when those speakers began to thump out the chants and drums."

Forward Lemmet Tangvah is one of the 10 new boys who were inducted into the India U-17 squad after the AFC U-17 Asian Cup Qualifiers last year, making this a completely new experience for him.

"I’ve never experienced playing under such conditions before. I think it was a brilliant initiative by our staff to get us to train under such conditions," said Lemmet. "They are always coming up with such innovative ideas to keep us on our toes, and we all really appreciate that."

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