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India to face Bangladesh in SAFF U-16 C’ship opener

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Thimphu: India take on Bangladesh in their opening encounter of the SAFF U-16 Championship 2023 in Bhutan, and head coach Ishfaq Ahmed feels that the first 30 minutes will be crucial for his boys in the tournament.

The India U-16s have had a month-long training camp in Srinagar, before travelling to Bhutan, where they are set to play Bangladesh (September 2) and Nepal (September 6) in Group A of the SAFF U-16 Championship, with the top two teams from each group making it to the semi-finals.

India head coach Ishfaq Ahmed laid emphasis on his team’s preparations in Srinagar, a city that enjoys similar weather conditions to that of Thimphu, the All India Football Federation sources said.

“The weather conditions are similar, but Thimphu (2,334m) is at a higher altitude than Srinagar (1,585m), so stamina will be key,” said Ahmed on the eve of their match against Bangladesh. “I feel the first half, especially the first 30 minutes will be important. If we are mentally ready and give our best, then we can succeed.

“Even if somebody tires out, it should not be a problem, because we are allowed five substitutions, so we can always change our players,” he said.

India’s first match of the tournament will be against Bangladesh, one of the tougher teams in the competition, but the U-16 boys are up for the challenge.

“We know a bit about them, and they are an extremely physical side, so we must be careful, especially in the set pieces. They might try to put us under pressure through direct football,” said Ahmed.

“But I have complete faith in my boys. They are the chosen ones, and all they need to do is to execute the talent they have and play according to the plan in a confident manner,” he said.

Ahmed, a former India international winger, believes that this is as good a time as any for the new batch of U-16 footballers to taste international football for the first time.

“It’s always a challenge when the team have not played internationally before, but everyone must start somewhere. Even Sunil (Chhetri) and Bhaichung (Bhutia) bhai started somewhere,” said Ahmed. “The boys are mentally strong and ready, and they will put up a good show for the match.”

India U-16 midfielder Ngamgouhou Mate said, “We have had a good preparation for the SAFF U-16 Championship in Kashmir, and all the boys are determined to do well. We need to put our heads down and stick to the plan and get the result.”

Bangladesh head coach Shaifur Rahman Moni believes that any match against India is always a pressure situation for his boys.

“Any match against India is always a pressure situation. That is more so for us because this is our first match of the tournament,” said Moni. “We certainly respect India, but we know the work that we have put in, and we are here to win the trophy. India play hard, but so will we. Our boys are ready to fight.”

Bangladesh captain Najmul Huda Faysal said, “India are a very good team, and they work very hard. But we have also studied the tactics and know how to play them. Our team is extremely fit, so hopefully we will get a good result against them.”

The India U-16s’ match against Bangladesh will kick off at 2.30 pm IST at the Changlimithang Stadium here on Saturday.

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