Youth Cup the backbone of India U16s ahead of SAFF C'ship
31 Aug 2023

Soumo Ghosh

AIFF Media Team

THIMPHU, BHUTAN: The India U-16 Men’s Team are well on their way to beginning their campaign in the SAFF U-16 Championship in Bhutan, but the foundation for the side was laid eight months ago when the U-17 Youth Cup in Hyderabad was conceptualised in AIFF’s strategic roadmap Vision 2047.

As many as 15 of the 23 players in the current India U-16 squad have come through the U-17 Youth Cup earlier this year.

India U-16 head coach Ishfaq Ahmed said, "It’s very important for any country to have youth tournaments; that’s how you scout players for the National Team. The number of players we have in our team who came through the Youth Cup just shows how important it is to build our future. I hope such tournaments continue to be the supply line for the national teams."

Midfielder Ngamgouhou Mate was a member of the Classic Football Academy side who were crowned champions of the U-17 Youth Cup earlier this year and feels that it was an invaluable experience for him.

"It was a massive experience for us, going all the way to Hyderabad to play the U-17 Youth Cup. We got to play against so many good teams," said Mate. "More importantly, we also got noticed by a lot of top clubs and the national scouts as well, and that has really helped many players that turned out in that competition."

Striker Aiborlang Kharthangmaw, who played for hosts Sreenidi Deccan FC, was thankful for the opportunity to play in the youth league and is now ready to step onto a new level.

"It was a first for me, to play in a national level tournament of such magnitude, and that was quite the eye-opener for me. Our club was hosting it at the Deccan Arena, and so many teams came in from across the country in the Final Round," said Aiborlang.

"I think it’s because of that experience that I now feel that I am up for the challenge at the international level, ahead of the SAFF Championship," he said. "This is the first time I will play at such a level, but I think we have a good team, many of my teammates here were the best performers in the U-17 Youth Cup."

Ishfaq Ahmed, a former India international himself, feels satisfied with the number of domestic matches the boys have played for their respective clubs before they were scouted and called up for trials.

"When you have tournaments like these, your players already come with a certain set of match experience, which is always crucial for any competition. No matter how good one is in training, putting players in stressful situations during matches is always a good marker for a coach, and youth tournaments at the domestic level will exponentially help the national team coaches from their teams," said Ahmed.

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