AFC Report: Former champions Islamic Republic of Iran are the favourites but they face a daunting task in Group C against Indonesia, Vietnam and India at the AFC U-16 Championship Malaysia 2018.
The head coaches of the four teams came face to face at the pre-match press conference on Thursday, with all admitting that their teams were confident going into the Championship.
On top of Continental glory, four spots are available to the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru, which the teams are all eyeing. The semifinalists at the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 will qualify for the mega tournament in Peru.
IR Iran will be aiming for their second title following their 2008 triumph in Uzbekistan. They came close to winning again in 2016 but were denied by reigning champions Iraq after losing on penalties.
IR Iran will face Indonesia on Friday at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur and head coach Abbas Chamanian is optimistic about his team’s chances but is not underestimating their opponents.
“We will do our best to perform well in this tournament. We’re hoping for a good start against Indonesia tomorrow. It’s going to be difficult against them as they are a very good team. We are here with a new team in a new setting and past achievements are not going to help us,” said Chamanian.
The young Team Melli will be hoping to take a leaf from the national team who performed admirably in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.
“Without any doubt, all 16 teams have a chance to win the title. The aim of this competition is the development of youth football.
“We are here to perform well and show good football. We know we can play well not only in Iran but all over the world. We hope we can play beautiful football in this competition.”
Indonesia are primed to be one of the contenders for a place in the knockout stage following their 2018 AFF U-16 Championship triumph in August but head coach Fakhri Husaini is aware of the challenges his team will face.
“It has been a long wait for us and we’re finally here. We had a good preparation so far and we are well prepared for the challenge. We respect all the teams and tomorrow is the first step in our journey,” said Husaini.
“My players are fit and ready to go. It will be a close fight tomorrow against Iran. They are good in attack but we are confident of our chances and we will plan a strategy accordingly.
“Every team has the same goal and that is to qualify for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in Peru. First we will have to reach the knockout stage and we will take it from there.”
Meanwhile, in Friday’s other match at the UM Arena, Vietnam will be hoping to put their 2016 agony of being eliminated in the quarter-finals behind them when they embark on their quest to land their first title and head coach Vu Hong Viet is cautious against India.
“The first match is always the hardest and tomorrow’s match against India will be a tough match. We don’t know India but we will be prepared,” said Vu.
The young Golden Dragons will have added inspiration following the nation’s U-23 squad who finished second in the AFC U23 Championship China 2018 and fourth in the 2018 Asian Games.
“Our Under-23 team’s achievement in China and Indonesia is good for the youth players as they will be motivated from that but it will not be easy to emulate. But we will show what we can do on the field.
India head coach Bibiano Fernandes is quietly confident of his team’s chances of advancing following their undefeated run during the qualifiers.
“It has been a long journey after qualification. We have been preparing well for this tournament. We came here early to acclimatise with the conditions and we understand that the weather here is very unpredictable and we’re getting used to the conditions here,” said Fernandes.
The young Blue Tigers, who ended their 2016 campaign in the group stage, will be hoping to better their record in Malaysia.
“India are in a very tough group as Iran, Indonesia and Vietnam will not be easy to face but we will take each match as it comes.
“We’re playing Vietnam tomorrow and they are a good team, we have seen them playing. We will try our best to collect the three points and start this tournament on a good note.”
India begin their campaign against Vietnam on September 21. The match will take place in Kuala Lumpur’s UM Arena Stadium, kick off will be at 6:15 PM IST.