The Indian under-16 team stunned reigning Asian champions Iraq for the first time, courtesy a last-gasp goal by Bhuvenesh, to bring its campaign back on track at the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Tournament.
India produced a dominating performance before Bhuvenesh headed in the match-winner in the dying minutes. The win comes as a massive morale-booster for the side, which lost 1-2 to Japan in its previous match. This is the first-ever victory for any Indian football team against Iraq in any format and among all age groups.
“I would like to dedicate this win to all my fellow Indian coaches who train the boys before they join us at the AIFF Academy and eventually the National Team,” India U-16 head coach Bibiano Fernandes said.
“We need to start believing in ourselves. The team thanks the fans and well-wishers of Indian Football who have always stood by us.”
Bibiano smiled when reminded about this being the first-ever Indian victory against Iraq.
“Whether it’s a final or just a friendly match when you score a winner in the dying minutes of a match, it’s always special,” he said.
Bhuvenesh’s header triggered euphoric celebrations as the entire bench rushed to the field to congratulate each other.
“Even though there have been some changes in the Iraqi side team from the side we played at the AFC Qualifiers in Nepal, it’s always difficult to play them because of physicality,” Bibiano said.
“However, the performance in the previous matches kept us all confident and I knew my boys would give everything to win this match.”
The last time the two teams met was in the AFC U-16 Qualifiers in Nepal and the match had ended in a goalless draw.
Reflecting on India’s dominance in the match, Bibiano said: “I knew we were getting close to scoring. I just had to tell the boys not to give up till the end and to stick to the plan till the final whistle. It eventually paid dividends.”
Bibiano said he kept reminding his wards about India’s goal against Japan, the first by the country in 36 years.
“I keep reminding them about the goal and that this is just a process to learn and improve and to be humble after every step,” he said.
“We have the AFC U-16 Championship at the back of our minds. It’s fast approaching and I pray the boys stay away from injuries.”