SAFF Cup: Tough for India against Maldives in semifinalDecember 8th, 2011 - 9:32 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Dec 8 (IANS) Defending champions India will find the going tough when they face the Maldives in the semifinal of the SAFF Cup football tournament here Friday.
Head-to-head India and the Maldives have a 9-4 record, with two matches ending in a draw. But the Maldives have emerged as a force to reckon with in South Asia and have troubled India in the last few years.
The Maldives beat five-time champions India in the 2008 final in Colombo for their maiden SAFF Cup title. In the last edition in Dhaka, the Maldives beat India 2-0 in a league match but faltered in the final, which India won 3-1 via penalties. In July, the two teams drew 1-1 in an international friendly in Male.
There isn’t much that separates the two team in the current tournament. The Maldives started with two draws against Nepal and Pakistan before a 3-1 win over Bangladesh.
India had to fight out a 1-1 draw against Afghanistan but improved as the tournament progressed. The 5-0 thrashing of Bhutan and the 3-0 win against Sri Lanka have only boosted their confidence, which took a beating after their come-from-behind draw against Afghanistan.
Indian strikers Sunil Chettri and Jeje Lalapeklua have also found the much needed rhythm. They struck in tandem against Sri Lanka and Chettri is the second highest scorer in the tournament with four goals, one behind Afghanistan’s Belal Arezou.
But the mid-field has been inconsistent and is a concern for India coach Savio Medeira. Right-winger Clifford Miranda and wing-back Syed Rahim Nabi have failed to work in sync.
The Maldives’ fast-paced game may also put the Indian defence in trouble. The Indians were slow against Afghanistan, who have emerged as a strong contender for the title. The Afghans face Nepal in the second semifinal.
Medeira, who was assistant to interim coach Armando Colaco during the 1-1 draw in Male, said the present team is better than the team that played in July.
“I think this team is much better than the one we last played. This is a different lot, much better organised and playing much better,” the Goan said.
Asked whether he has any plans to stop Maldives’s captain and striker Ali Ashfaq, Medeira said: “It’s not just about Ali Ashfaq though he can get the game out of the opponent at any time. As a team, they are not bad and I respect the opponents and never underestimate them.”
Medeira was also happy that his experienced defender Sameer Naik was available for the match. The Dempo player missed the last two matches with an ankle injury.
“Sameer is fit and his availability gives us more options,” he said.
Medeira said that team that commits less mistakes will win the title.
“No team is favourite from here on. The team that commits less mistakes will win the title,” he said.
Maldives captain Ashfaq said he is looking forward to the game. “We don’t want to look back in history. But I have played against the Indians and I know their game. I am ready for it,” he said.
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- India retain SAFF Cup, pound four goals on 10-man Afghanistan - Dec 11, 2011
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Tags: afghans, arezou, belal, colaco, contender, cup football, fast paced game, football tournament, indian defence, interim coach, jeje, medeira, mid field, nabi, savio, scorer, South Asia, strikers, time champions, winger