India confident of finding future football stars

Dubai: India’s Under-16 coach Bibiano Fernandes is confident that at least three players from his squad are capable of taking the next step to being among the nation’s top footballing talents in the future.

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Fernandes, who is awaiting clearance to start his in-house training camp in Goa for his squad of probables for the 2020 AFC Championship, has tipped at least three key juniors who can make the grade as top-level professionals.

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“At the moment, at least three of them have been showing a lot of promise at serving Indian football in the best possible manner. But then, there are several other factors that will need to be in place for them to achieve their dreams,” Fernandes told Gulf News from Goa.

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In recent times, India has been laying a lot of emphasis on improving its footballing structure at the grassroots level, especially after hosting the Fifa U17 World Cup in 2017. The national squad will be in Bahrain for the 2020 AFC U16 Championship that is scheduled to be held in November-December.

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Fernandes has shown confidence that much of the squad’s success will depend on his trio of standouts – goalkeeper Aman Kumar Sahni, central defender Anish Mazumder and striker Sridarth Nongmeikapam – while targeting one of four spots on offer for Asia during the U17 World Cup in Peru, from October 5-27, 2021.

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Last week, former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia pointed out that one of the perennial problems and cause for concern for Indian football is the lack of talent coming through and sustaining itself from the grassroots level.

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Bhutia rued the fact that there was no one to fill the void that would be left after the retirement of current skipper and striker Sunil Chhetri. Much was expected of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh, but both are yet to make a mark at the national level.

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However, Fernandes felt that a handful of eager and talented youngsters may turn things around for Indian football in the future.

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“Sridarth has shown a lot of commitment, and so has Anish in his role as central defender, while Som Kumar [Sahni] has been solid in goal,” Fernandes said.

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“But this said, it’s a long way from here on for all three of them or even the others in the squad who have all been working hard for the sake of the team. Perhaps, it’s a bit too early to speak about these guys being among the stars of the future of Indian football.

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“But, the fact is that they can be at the top of the game, provided they have the proper stepping stones and also if they keep on playing at an improving level all the time. There are so many things and factors that are connected with their growth as footballers and as professionals. From what I have seen so far, these three can make it to the top just like what Chhetri and Bhutia achieved in their careers. Who knows, they can perhaps go even further than them.”

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With tough teams like Australia, Uzbekistan and Korea Republic in Group C in Bahrain, India are still the one to watch out for following their strong showing with dominating 5-0 wins against Turkmenistan and Bahrain and a 1-1 draw against hosts Uzbekistan while qualifying for Bahrain 2020 in September last year.

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