Ramping up its preparations for the 2018 AFC U-16 Championships the Indian junior team will participate in the tri-nation Istanbul Cup in Turkey.
The colts, who finished runner-up in the five-nation WAFF U-16 Championship, will play Turkey and Oman in the tournament followed by a friendly match against the junior side of Turkish club Besiktas before returning to India.
From January, the team has so far played 19 international matches against U-16 teams including USA, Norway, Japan, Serbia, Iraq, DPR Korea, China (U-17), Thailand, Jordan amongst others.
“With us playing Oman in Turkey, the boys would now have played 9 of the qualified 16 teams (including India) for the AFC U-16 Championship. The quality of matches we played during the exposure tours will help the coach and the players in the long run as these are the countries which we will be playing often at the Asian level,” National Team Director, Abhishek Yadav, said.
Yadav, a former India Captain felt the Istanbul Cup holds huge significance as it is the last preparatory tour before the AFC U-16 Championship.
“We at AIFF believe this is good preparation before the AFC Championship. The exposure tours have helped the coach and the players to gauge the standard and what to expect in the Championship,” he said.
Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes felt playing against Turkey and Oman will further enhance the confidence of the boys prior to the “acid test”.
“We look forward to playing against Turkey who have played the FIFA U-17 World Cup a few times including the last edition in India in 2017. Furthermore, as Oman are part of the AFC U-16 Finals in Malaysia, nothing could be a more appropriate build-up for us,” he stated.
Bibiano’s boys have played friendly matches against all the teams in Group A of AFC U-16 Championship (Malaysia, Japan, Tajikistan and Thailand) and three from Group B (DPR Korea, Yemen, Jordan) plus Iraq in the last eight months.
Turkey’s youth development system has always been touted as among the best in Europe with the country having won the European U-17 Championship in 2005, and had finished semi-finalists in 2008, 2010 and 2017. They were also the European U-16 champions in 1993 having finished runners-up the next year in 1994.
Oman, on the other hand, have won the AFC U-16 Championship twice in 1996 and 2000 and had reached the quarterfinals at the last edition in Goa in 2016.
At the AFC U-16 Championship, India have been clubbed with strong contenders Iran, Vietnam and Indonesia in Group C and begin their campaign on September 21 against Vietnam. The four semi-finalists from the competition earn a direct berth to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru in 2019.
India’s match schedule in Turkey stay as follows:
August 20: India vs Oman
August 22: India vs Turkey
August 25: India U-16 vs Besiktas U-16.