The Bangladesh under-16 football team will leave for Qatar today to participate in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers. Interestingly, the squad will be without 11 of the players who featured in last month’s SAFF U-15 Championship in India as they are reportedly over aged.
Bangladesh will compete against hosts Qatar, Yemen and Bhutan in Group E in Doha between September 18 and 22. The 11 group champions and four best runners-up teams will join the hosts in the 16-team final round, to be held in 2020.
The 11 Bangladeshi players who were found to be over aged through MRI tests were subsequently dropped from the squad, paving the way for fresh faces from the BKSP and Fortis-BFF Academy. Three players of the 2018 SAFF U-15 Championship winning squad also secured their positions again.
Only 12 players that featured in the squad for the recently concluded SAFF U-15 Championship found a place in the current 23-member team, which will face Qatar on September 18 in their campaign opener. Bangladesh finished third in the SAFF U-15 Championship after losing to Nepal and India.
Bangladesh’s British coach Robert Ryles, who stayed back home instead of guiding the Bangladesh U-15 team in India, looks forward to using the AFC tournament as a good test for the budding footballers.
“We looked at things where they need to improve. The target we have for the players in this competition is to perform at the optimum level. We are eagerly looking forward to the challenges ahead. It will be good test for them to see where they are.” said Ryles at a press conference at the BFF house yesterday.
Bangladesh defeated Qatar 2-0 in the last edition’s qualifiers two years ago. Asked if the same could be repeated, Ryles replied, “Anything is possible. I’m optimistic but I have to be realistic as well. The competition is extremely tough.”
“This team is better than the SAFF Championship one. We have done some special training in set-pieces, counter and defence. We also have a better goalkeeper. Hopefully we will put up a positive display in Qatar,” said defender Jony Shikdar, who was a part of the SAFF U-15 Championship squad last month.
The U-16 team played three practice matches against the Mohammedan SC and Saif SC U-18 youth teams and Pioneer League outfits Uttar Club. They lost the first two matches but achieved victory in the last.