India will be up against UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran in the group stages of AFC U-16 Championship as the draw for the event, which will act as a dress rehearsal for next year's FIFA U-17 World Cup, was held amid much fanfare in Panaji, Goa on Thursday.
The tournament begins on September 15 and matches will be held at Fatorda and Bambolim Stadium in Goa. The final is slated to be played on October 2.
The top two teams from each groups will qualify for the quarter-finals. In case India, who are in Group A, advance to the semi-finals, the winner of play-off 3 will also qualify for FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Conducted by Shin Mangil, Director of Competitions, Asian Football Confederation, the ceremony was attended by Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, Secretary of All India Football Federation Kushal Das and U-17 World Cup Tournament Director Javier Ceppi among others.
The 16 participating teams were divided into four groups.
U-17 India head coach Nicolai Adam was pleased with the result of the draw.
"I like the draw, when you look at the groups it's pretty even. We see this as a stepping stone to the World Cup; so the more difficult the opposition the better. We still have a long way to go though. All I want is good competition to prepare the World Cup, the motive is still to reach the semi-finals of the AFC championships," Commented Nicolai.
This would be the third time that India is hosting a continental event in football and the CM said, "Goa is the only state in India to have football as the state sport."
The state has played host to the prestigious 3rd Lusofonia Games wherein huge sports infrastructure were carried out, the Indian Super League in 2014 and 2015 and also hosted the ISL finals 2015.
"Now with the Asian Confederation Cup 2016, BRICS U-17 Championship and the FIFA World Cup U-17 events, planned to be hosted in the state, we are going in the direction of making Goa, a sport state and in time we will be looking at sports tourism as a profitable venture.
"Goa is deeply committed to the development of football, the Indian team that will participate in this World Cup Qualifiers has its home base here and all the national football academies are also in Goa."
Das said, "For us it is a great honour to be hosting this tournament, it's a preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 next year and I am certain Goa will leave no stone unturned to make this event a successful one."
Group A: India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran
Group B: Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Japan, Australia
Group C: Iraq, Oman, Malaysia, Korea Republic
Group D: Yemen, Thailand, Uzbekistan, DPR Korea.