When Goutam Ghosh, head coach of AIFF Kalyani Regional Academy, announced the 18-member Indian team for the second edition of Asia U-16 Champions Trophy, starting in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, on May 17, the names of Krishna Pandit and Anirudh Thapa were on top of his list. The two football players have done enough in the last two years to earn the confidence of the coach. And with India playing against some of the top Asian teams in matches spread across five different countries — India begins their campaign against Frenz United, Malaysia A, on May 17 — Ghosh knows he will need the services of these two players who have hit top form in recent times.
The 15-year-old Krishna justified his selection by finding the back of the net in the team’s 3-1 win over a combined team comprising players from I-League just two days before leaving for Malaysia. Thapa, 16, however, was impressive as ever in the midfield, working like a well-oiled machine.
“Krishna and Thapa have improved a lot since the last time I saw them. While Krishna was in playing XI, Thapa played well in the last two tournaments and broke into the first team. Their performance in AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers last year was impressive and coach Ghosh has high hopes from them,” said Surinder Singh, who was an assistant coach with Indian U-14 football team and is the coach of St Stephen’s Football Academy where Thapa was a trainee.
Both Krishna and Thapa came into the spotlight last year when India, led by Krishna, defeated hosts Nepal to win the U-16 SAFF Championship. However, soon Krishna and Thapa lost the confidence of the coach with some lacklustre performance for the team. In fact, Krishna’s performance dipped in the middle of the SAFF Championship and he was ignored for the friendly match against UAE held in Dubai later that year. But Ghosh kept his faith in Krishna and included him in the 22-member U-16 team for the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers in Kuwait. In the match against hosts Kuwait, India were trailing 2-0 when Krishna came on the pitch in the 61st minute. Just two minutes into the match, Krishna showed his poaching skills and pulled back one for India. Even though India lost 1-2, Ghosh was impressed with what he saw and Krishna has never looked back since then.
“Krishna’s main strength is his height which he uses to good effect. His physique has also improved and he is very good in front of the goal. I have seen Thapa ever since he broke into the India U-13 team. He has got a good technique and is a great passer of the ball. I have seen the videos of their performances in the AFC Championship Qualifiers and I must say they were very impressive,” added Surinder.
Krishna made heads turn when he led the Indian team in under-14 AFC Cup and later scored the fastest goal (28 seconds) in the SAARC Cup. Thapa, however, rose through the ranks and left a lasting impression in the 2011-12 National School Games.