India Under-16 men’s football team coach believes his side have the potential to put up a good show despite being handed a tough draw for the 2020 AFC Championship set to be held in Bahrain later this year.
India were paired in Group C alongside South Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan in Group C in the draw for the AFC U-16 Championship that took place on Thursday. Making it to the semi-finals of the competition would earn India a place for the 2021 Fifa Under-17 World Cup set to be held in Peru.
In the last edition of the tournament in 2018 in, the Indian team remained a win away from a direct qualification for the World Cup after losing to South Korea by a solitary goal in the quarter-finals.
“I was watching it [draw] live and to be honest I wasn’t expecting any country to be in any group,” Fernandes said during a live session on All India Football Federation’s Instagram page.
“When I saw [South] Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan I thought of my team, who have already given an account of themselves in the qualifiers.
“I believe from the bottom of my heart that these boys can perform on that stage against those teams.”
Fernandes said he wants his team to do the talking with their performances after gaining the experience from various exposure trips.
“When we go to play tournaments abroad, India is always underestimated,” he said. “After one-two matches, they come to know what is India now. We have proven ourselves as dark horses in past years. We can break the silence with our performance.
“We won in Serbia, Tajikistan, Serbia, Jordan. One official, when we were checking out from the hotel, came and congratulated us. He was the one who received us from the airport. He said, ‘When you came, I thought you would be last in the tournament. I was surprised that you won and India have got so much change in football. Respect for the boys.’ That thing we want to do it with our performance.”
India qualified for the U-16 finals after finishing as Group B toppers during the qualifiers in Tashkent, competing alongside Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Turkmenistan. Fernandes’ boys bagged seven points from three matches scoring 11 goals, while conceding just once.
The coach from Goa feels that India could be among the five teams in Asia at the U-16 level in a years time.
“If we look at the matches we played the gap is not very big,” Fernandes said. “Last time we lost by just one goal in the quarterfinal. We played against Turkmenistan and Bahrain this time and the gap is not too much. Just a little bit of work on the ground and we will be there. It is just a matter of time before we will be among the top 5 teams in Asia.”