90 minutes! 90 minutes maybe 120 minutes and even a penalty shootout separate the India U-16 National Team from qualifying for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru. The Indian colts coached by Bibiano Fernandes have reached the quarterfinal of the ongoing 2018 AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia and now, perhaps the strongest team in the competition – South Korea, stands in between as a barrier.
India face South Korea at the Petaling Jaya Stadium on Monday, October 1 at 6.15pm IST and the match will be telecast live on Star Sports 2/2HD.
16 years back in 2002, the then Indian U-17 team had also reached this far – a win away from qualifying to the FIFA U-17 World Cup till they faced South Korea. India had lost 1-3 on that occasion.
“We know South Korea are the favourites and we are the underdogs,” Head Coach Bibiano Fernandes stated. “They are the overwhelming favourites.”
“But we have been the underdogs since the group-stages and we are banking on the same against Korea Republic,” he added. “We all know the gravity of the moment and what it will mean for Indian football. But at the same time, we will play without pressure and back ourselves up as underdogs. We will fight.”
“If South Korea underestimate us, we shall prove them otherwise and give them a run for their money.”
South Korea are already being touted as probable champions having scored 12 goals from their three group matches without conceding any. India have also not conceded a single goal as yet but they will be hit hard with the suspension of central defender Bikash Yumnam for a double booking.
“Bikash will not be able to play. There’s no point of sitting back and lamenting. We need to go ahead with what we have. There are other players in the squad, all capable enough,” Bibiano stays practical.
“We all know the quality that South Korea possesses and we all know the damage they can do if we get complacent at the back. Our defence has been our strength in this tournament and the players have worked really hard to defend as a single cohesive unit,” he quips.
Building up to the clash, the Indian training sessions have been nothing short of gruelling with special emphasis being given to the finishing aspect. “We have been creating chances and need to convert them. We could have easily won against both Iran and Indonesia. If we get complacent in front of goal, it will end badly for us,” Bibiano pronounced.
Even the players are raring to go and once again prove themselves. “We will give more than our cent percent in the quarters. These are the 90 minutes that we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for,” informed skipper Vikram Partap.
“Anything can happen in a football match and anything can happen in the elimination rounds. We cannot predict the future but will play our hearts out to make a dream come true.”
Defender Gurkirat Singh added, “We are ready for them. We know the challenges we will face and the swiftness we will have to deal with. We need to stick to the instructions of the coach.”