Next target is Asian Games: Sukhwinder


New Delhi : Having triumphed in the sub-continent, India under-23 football coach Sukhwhinder Singh now wants his boys to gear up for the next year’s Asian Games at Guangzhou in China.

Support TwoCircles

“It is a young team and we have done extremely well. We were the only junior team to compete in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. Now we have to look forward and build this team for the AFC Challenge Cup and the Asian Games. For me Asian Games will be the biggest challenge. The boys are talented and the country can expect a good showing from them in China,” Sukhwinder told IANS over phone from Dhaka.

The former India international, who was removed unceremoniously as the national coach in 2005 before being given the charge of the under-23 team in October, has always advocated the need of youth development for the game.

After the team’s SAFF Cup title win Sunday, India’s fifth, against a full strength Maldives at the Bangabandhu Stadium, Sukhwinder feels vindicated. It was also the second time after 1999 in Goa that India won the SAFF Cup under Sukhwinder.

“I have always maintained that we have to be serious with youth development. That was also the reason why I took the offer of coaching the under-23 team. It was indeed a challenging task,” Sukhwinder said.

During his 17-year tenure as the JCT coach, Sukhwinder’s talent drive had produced players like Baldeep Singh, Balwant Singh and Jagpreet Singh, who were part of the victorious team. They came through the junior development programme at JCT.

“It is a building process and we cannot afford to rest. Some of the players in this team were in the national camp but never got a chance to play in the senior team. In this tournament they have proved themselves. For players like Arindam (Bhattacharya), Jagpreet, Balwant and Baldeep, the victory will give them a lot of confidence,” he said.

On goalkeeper Arindam, who made two brilliant saves in the tie-breaker in the final, Sukhwinder said: “He is talented and has all the abilities to become a good goalkeeper. He can read the game well and that’s what is needed from a goalkeeper. If your last line of defence is strong, what more do you need?”

Sukhwinder also had words of praise for Pune FC striker and India under-19 captain Jele Lalpeklua.

“Watch out for the guy. He is an extremely skilled player and one of the best strikers among the juniors. He has all the qualities to be a top striker for India,” he said.