India may not have gone beyond the group league stage but the overall performance was heart-warming, said Assistant Coach C.M. Ranjith on the under-16 team’s show in the Asian youth football championship held in Iran.

Ranjith, who just returned to the city after being in the camp in Goa since May, said: “The boys really worked hard.”

But, he admitted, in a group with top performers like Uzbekistan, China and Syria it was never going to be easy. Yet, the team managed to hold a powerhouse like China to a draw. “That draw was the highpoint of the boys’ performance in the championship,” he said.

The SBI officer, once a popular player himself with a vast following in the local league, said India had lost to Uzbekistan but narrowly (3-2) when in the preliminary phase earlier, the same team had drubbed it 9-0.

“That is the degree of improvement to be noted,” he said, considering that “Uzbekistan had played over 25 international friendlies before the actual championship while we could play just two (both against UAE en route to Iran).”

Much credit for the improvement should go to the Chief Coach Colm Toal, Ranjith said. He said Toal’s handling of the Youth development programme has begun to show results. “Nearly 50 per cent of the players who played in this u-16 championship will now progress to the under-19 level and it is definite that standards will go up,” he said.

Keen to prop up his SBI side in the local CFA league, coach Ranjith, known for his eye for talent is planning to shape the side for the first division matches. “Hopefully there will be some recruitment this time and I am keen to get some good players to get this team back into the senior division before long,” he said.

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