AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: The region of Vasco da Gama is rife with anticipation. After hosting a plethora of Hero ISL and Hero I-League matches over the last few years, the Tilak Maidan is now all set to host the India U-17 Men's National Team who will face Uzbekistan U-17s in two Friendlies on January 22 (3.30 PM IST) and January 24 (8.30 PM IST).
Coache by Bibiano Fernandes, the Blue Colts earned their ticket to the AFC U-17 Asian Cup as Group D runners-up in the qualification round held in Saudi Arabia in October 2022. The team restarted the national camp in November in Goa and travelled for an exposure tour to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, where they played a friendly game against the hosts' U-20 side, narrowly losing 0-1.
Fernandes said, "The UAE tour was short but extremely productive. It was a good test against the UAE U-20s to check our levels against tough opponents. And despite the result, I am extremely happy with the boys' performance. We created numerous clear-cut chances and could have even won the game had the finishing been better. I am sure that with more such games, the boys will grow in confidence."
As one of the 16 teams to qualify for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, Uzbekistan are sure to provide valuable match practice for the Blue Colts. The year 2022 was a remarkable one for Jamoliddin Rakhmatullaev's side, as they sealed qualification for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup with a 14-0 thrashing of Brunei Darussalam, followed by a thrilling 3-2 victory over heavyweights Korea Republic. Uzbekistan also finished runners-up to Iran in the CAFA U-16 Championship, missing out on the title only on goal difference.
"From what we have seen, Uzbekistan are an extremely good side. They are quick and physically very dominant. It will be a good fight and a good opportunity to check where we stand at the moment," said Fernandes.
"Such international matches are extremely crucial for our preparation for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup as they give us challenges similar to the ones that we can expect at the final tournament. I would like to thank the AIFF and SAI for organising these matches for us," he further stated.
Fernandes was also the head coach when India last faced Uzbekistan in this age group in the 2020 AFC U-16 Championship Qualification Round held at the JAR Stadium in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. It was a neck-and-neck affair, which ended 1-1, with Sridarth Nongmeikapam putting India ahead in the second half before the hosts equalised late on. India ended up topping the group and qualifying for the final tournament, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, Fernandes has cleared the qualifying stage again with a new crop of players. But he knows that it's only step one, and he and his boys must make the best use of the preparation time between now and the AFC U-17 Asian Cup in the summer.
The two U-17 friendly matches between India and Uzbekistan will be streamed live on the Indian Football YouTube channel.
January 22: India U-17 vs Uzbekistan U-17, 3:30 PM IST
January 24: India U-17 vs Uzbekistan U-17, Jan 24, 8:30 PM IST