The India U-16 squad was knocked out of the AFC U-16. Sports Editor AUGUSTO RODRIGUES during a conversation with India U-16 coach BIBIANO FERNANDES discovers the positives and negatives of India’s march forward in football
Q: India scored one goal and conceded one in the AFC U-16 tournament. India appears to be afflicted with a problem of scoring?
We felt we could qualify for the World Cup because we had a very good team. In our preparatory matches we scored 106 goals in 52 matches. Scoring goals was not a problem.
Q: What was the problem then?
It would have been different if we had played more competitive matches. We had a lot of international exposure but those matches are different from competitive matches. Competitive matches bring a different sort of pressure on players, the experience is different and that is the sort of experience the boys need to get accustomed to.
Q: Scoring is a problem faced by juniors and seniors in India. Does India need a programme to redress the goal scoring problem? Is there a solution in place?
Goal scoring must be taught from the grass roots and one way of addressing this is by making the youngsters play more competitive games also. I never had a problem with my teams finishing but competition is what matters and that is what we lacked. As I said, the pressure is different when it comes to competition.
Q: You mean to say that despite the exposure, India was not prepared for this pressure?
Look, the boys from Republic of Korea have been in a programme together for the last five years. We assembled our boys for little less than a year and you saw how we performed. Had my boys been put through a regime the boys from Korea were, the story would have been different.
Q: We had Mario Aguiar from Goa who had a hand in producing Dheeraj and now we have Felix who has a hand in producing Niraj. Do you think goalkeeping coaches have that something special in them or is it a coincidence?
I do not know if it is a coincidence (laughs). There are some goalkeeping coaches who have the art. I think Felix has done a great job. Actually, Niraj was not our first choice goalkeeper. It was that I decided to play him once and was impressed with his game and I kept rewarding him for his performance.
Q: Do you as coach choose the goalkeeper or do you play a goalkeeper on the advice of the goalkeeping coach?
The goalkeeper should fit into my philosophy of how I want the team to play. Of course, I do take the advice of my support staff but the ultimate choice of who will be under the bar is mine.
Q: Your approach in the knock out match against Republic of Korea was similar to the approach by the India U-17 team for the World Cup.
We knew the quality of the players from Korea and were certain that if we were to press them, it would misfire. We therefore adopted the idea of not conceding a goal in the first half and resorted to our style of play in the second. But, their quality was good and they pushed us back whenever we tried to move forward.
Q: When we spoke the last time you stressed that players from Goa do not have the hunger to excel. How do we starve them? Is there a way out or will it continue to be a story where the ball is thrown from one court to the other?
The boys need to be ready to sacrifice their comforts. The others boys are ready to do anything for their country. Boys from Goa need to have such an attitude. Maybe there will be a change among boys from Goa after they see how Shanon is doing.
Q: Shanon Viegas is part of the team was not played. How long will it take him to grow to a level where he can be part of the India playing eleven?
If he continues with the squad I am sure that he will be able to break into the first eleven within one year. He has shown great desire and hunger. He has to maintain the same zeal.
Q: When India prepared for the U-17 World Cup, there was talk that it would take years for India to qualify for the World Cup. Do you think the years have shortened with the progress being made in football in India now?
We still need time to develop to reach the world level. It will take us at least another five to six years to reach the Asia level. India needs to develop or make more strenuous competitions available for the youngsters. Our young players should be playing for clubs now. We need more tournaments like the ISL for our younger players.
Q: Are you suggesting we should bring in young foreign players to play in our youth leagues?
No. We should bring in good teams from abroad or send our team abroad to play in good tournaments. Our boys will not get a chance to play if foreign players are brought in.
Q: What is the fate of the boys that were part of your set up?
The Under 19 coach Floyd has asked us for six boys from this set up and I think the AIFF is thinking of send the team to take part in the Portugal u18 league for four months.