Fri, 01 Dec 2023

Kathmandu [Nepal], September 23 (ANI): India's U19 head coach Shuvendu Panda said on Saturday that the win against Bangladesh in the opener of the SAFF U19 Championship will give great motivation to the players.

The India U-19 boys started their SAFF U-19 Championship with a 3-0 victory against the Bangladesh U-19 team at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu on Thursday.

Labelling Bangladesh as their toughest competitor for the trophy in Kathmandu, Panda had talked about treading lightly at the beginning.

"Honestly, we did not expect it to be so easy. This win gives great motivation to our players," said Panda. "I had told the players to stay calm, defend well when we lose the ball and make the most of our chances going forward, which we did very well," Panda said, according to AIFF.

Ten players in India's starting line-up in the SAFF U19 Championship opener against Bangladesh on Thursday had never played an international match before.

Only Ricky Meetei Haobam, who won the SAFF U17 Championship last year and was part of India's AFC U17 Asian Cup squad in June, had any prior national team experience.

But the manner in which the Blue Colts blew away Bangladesh, considered one of the most experienced sides in the tournament, is commendable in all aspects. The majority of their squad is made up of players from the BFF Elite Academy, which finished second in the Bangladesh Championship League last season. A few players were also runners-up at the SAFF U20 Championship in Bhubaneswar last year.

"It did not look like a team playing their first competitive match together. The biggest reason is that they've been training for two years now. When you live together under the same roof for such a long time, you don't remain as teammates, you become a family. Their anxious wait to don the blue of India finally came to an end at the Dashrath Stadium.

And what a way it was to announce their arrival on the international stage. Months of knowing each other off the pitch translates into smoother connections on the pitch, proving that international experience did not matter for this bunch," Panda said.

Acknowledging that the team met his expectations, Panda said, "We controlled the game, especially in the second half. We didn't allow them to progress from the sidelines, which is something they are good at."The full-back positions were dominated by Vijay Marandi on the left and Ricky on the right. Vijay was prominent in attack as well, with his accurate long balls over the top of the Bangladesh defence picking out the speedy runs of Sahil Khurshid on the left flank. Centre-backs Jahangir Ahmad Shagoo and Thomas Cherian hacked clear everything which came their way, throwing their bodies on the line when required to earn a deserved clean sheet. Credit also goes to goalkeeper Lionel Darryl Rymmei's stunning full-stretch save, which kept out a potential equaliser from long range in the first half.

Shishodia ran the show in midfield. The captain's armband provided more motivation than nerves for his young shoulders. It was his cutback from the by-line and Kelvin Singh Taorem's presence of mind to drag two defenders with him that allowed Arjun Singh Oinam to seal the win with a pin-point finish for the third goal.

Striker Goyary was one of the most confident players on the pitch. The Assamese, who first broke into the national scene after winning the Futsal Club Championship with Delhi FC in 2021, wouldn't have imagined he would bag his first India goal merely seconds into his debut. Two to three red shirts always hovered around him throughout the game, which in turn opened up plenty of spaces for the Indian wingers.

The one who exploited those spaces the most was right-winger Naoba Meitei, whose hunger to win the ball in the final third got India's second goal, a superb finish into the top corner from a not-so-easy angle, just before half-time. "Bangladesh just couldn't deal with Naoba's lung-bursting runs. His fitness was top until the 90th minute," remarked Panda.

India's next match is against Bhutan on Monday, where the Blue Colts will fight to top the group. Panda has also been keeping an eye on the other group consisting of Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan. The latter upset the hosts in their first match, and the coach believes there's no team that can be taken lightly. "We consider every team as a tough side. We respect everyone. Against Bhutan, we will go with the same seriousness as we did in the first match," he said. (ANI)

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