India U18s get ready for Saudi Arabia challenge

India will take on hosts Saudi Arabia in their second match of the AFC U-19 Championships 2020 Qualifiers on Friday (November 8, 2019), after beginning their campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Uzbekistan in the Group F opener.

“It was not the result that we wanted but there’s no time to sulk on the first loss,” head coach Floyd Pinto told The AIFF Media. He added, “We have to pick up and dust ourselves off. The recovery process has started and all the players are determined to do everything it takes to win the next match.”

Saudi Arabia, who clinched the AFC U-19 Championship in 2018, picked up three points in their opening qualifier against Afghanistan and talking about the challenge they pose, Floyd stated that it will be a “difficult” game and he hopes that the team can rally together and gain a positive result.

“Even though they won (against Afghanistan) 1-0 through a penalty kick, they dominated the game from start to finish and should have scored many more goals. As expected, it will be a difficult game against them. I am confident that the players will recover from the previous result — both physically and mentally — and continue to put their best efforts in,” he said.

The head coach also stressed on the importance of keeping composure and focus throughout the 90 minutes as it was two strikes in the second half that cost India the game after a balanced first half that saw Vikram Partap Singh and Gurkirat Singh coming close to finding the net.

Floyd remarked, “I cannot fault the players for the effort put in by them. We played a good first half but in the second, we started slowly, dropped too deep and gave the ball away too much. One of lapse of concentration and they scored. Against Saudi Arabia now, it is imperative that we put on a strong showing in the second half as well and if we can do so, there’s no reason why we can’t gain the result we need.”

The match against Saudi Arabia will be India’s second in as many as three days and according to 18-year-old Jitendra Singh, who led the team to the SAFF U18 title earlier this year, detailed how it is the “small things” that enable faster recovery for a player.

He explained, “It is extremely important to to recover well for the next match. We came to Dammam a few days in advance, which helped us acclimatize well and will come in really handy as we get back in shape. It is the small stuff — like taking the right amount of water, the right food, getting adequate rest and listening to one’s body — that is important during recovery and I’m sure all the players will be at their 100% levels ahead of the game.”

The youngster, who made 32 appearances for the Indian Arrows in the last two domestic seasons, shared his thoughts on India’s next opponents and labelled them as the “best team in the group”.

“Saudi Arabia are the strongest team in the group. We cannot afford to make any silly mistakes or we will be punished. After the Uzbekistan result, all the players are determined to correct their errors and get a good result against the home team. The first match is history now — all our focus is on the next game and we are looking to put our best foot forward,” he concluded.

The match between India and Saudi Arabia will be played at the Prince Saud bin Jalawi Stadium in Al Khobar, with kick-off scheduled for 9.35 PM IST (7.05 PM local time).

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