India were drawn with Korea Republic, Australia and Uzbekistan in tough Group C on Thursday for this year's AFC U-16 Championships. The four semi-finalists will earn a direct qualification to FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2021.
The official draw for the tournament -- scheduled from September 16 to October 3 in Bahrain -- was held at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur.
India qualified for the U-16 Finals when they finished as Group B champions in Tashkent from a pool which had Uzbekistan (hosts), Bahrain and Turkmenistan. They finished with seven points from three matches scoring 11 goals, while conceding 1. This is India's third consecutive qualification in the AFC U-16 finals, and ninth overall.
India U-16 head coach Bibiano Fernandes said the "boys are looking forward" to the challenge.
"I don't like to pre-empt any expectations prior to the start of the competition. At this level all the teams are tough to play against. We as a team have improved over the years. I'm sure that the boys much like myself, are looking forward to it," he said.
The Indian boys had faced Uzbekistan in Tashkent in the qualifiers in 2019 where it had ended 1-1.
"When we last played Uzbekistan in Uzbekistan, we discovered that they were such a composed side. There's a long gap between the qualifiers and the U-16 finals and it's understandable that they have had ample time and opportunity to improve as a team. But we are ready for the challenge," Fernandes said.
In the last edition in 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, the U-16 boys were a win away from a direct qualification into the FIFA U-17 World Cup when they lost to Korea Republic by a solitary goal in the quarterfinals.
That was India's second entry into the quarterfinals, the earlier being in 2002.