Heading into the AFC U-19 Championship Group F qualifiers where India will face Uzbekistan in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the duo of Ninthoinganba Meetei and Givson Singh is upbeat ahead of their continental challenge. Givson says it will be a tough outing but they will give their best to qualify.
Heading into the AFC U-19 Championship Group F qualifiers, where India will face Uzbekistan in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Floyd Pinto's boys are riding high on a wave of momentum after claiming the SAFF championship. Among the key players in the triumph was Ninthoinganba Meetei.
India U-19 football team winger Meetei wishes his parents were present in Kathmandu, Nepal, when the 18-year-old was named the player of the tournament in the U-18 SAFF Championships in September. “It was a really emotional moment. I really wished my parents were there with me at the time to share my joy,” said Meetei to Sportstar.
“The whole team got a real big boost after winning the SAFF Championship and we have got even more confidence,” says Meetei, who made his Indian Super League (ISL) debut for NorthEast United last month.
The U-19 team is undefeated in its last eight matches which includes seven wins and one draw which resulted in two titles – OFC Youth Development tournament in Vanuatu and the SAFF Championship in Nepal.
This batch of players was united for the first time in May before the Granatkin tournament in Russia in June. The Indian team finished last in the 12-team tournament after managing two draws (against Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan) and suffering three defeats (against Russia, Moldova, and Tajikistan) from their five matches.
While Meetei has played under Pinto in the Indian Arrows set-up in the I-League for the past two seasons, 17-year-old Givson Singh made his step up after being coached by Bibiano Fernandes with the U-16 set-up.
“Bibiano sir taught us how to behave like professionals, communicate with our teammates on and off the pitch and be disciplined. I played for over two years under him and have really improved as a player and person thanks to him,” said Givson.
Givson, who is an attacking midfielder in the side, has taken inspiration from Arsenal player Mesut Ozil, credits Pinto for helping him improve his positioning on and off the ball. The Manipuri footballer will want to strike an exciting combination with his state-mate, Meetei, who is keen to strike fear into the minds of the defenders whenever he receives the ball.
“If I can see space in front and even if there are three defenders trying to stop me, I will try to move into a position where I can attack and help create a scoring chance for my teammates,” said Meetei, who is also a fan of India international and Bengaluru FC winger Udanta Singh.
Speaking of the qualifiers, Givson says it will be a tough outing against three quality teams but they will give their best to advance to the next stage. Being away from home and spending a considerable amount of time away from the country is becoming a norm for young Indian footballers.
“Of course, I miss my family,” says Givson, on dealing with the hardship of being a youth international. “However, we've all come here to become big players and for that, we have to make sacrifices. Not everyone gets an amazing opportunity to represent their nation at such a young age.”
Meetei says, “It gets difficult at times [being away from home] but I forget my worries when I realise and think about why I am doing what I am doing - it's all for my family.”