New Delhi: In a couple of hours from now beginning 3pm (Friday, December 9, 2011) South Asia’s two most powerful football teams India and Maldives will face each other in SAFF Cup Semi-Finals. The highly intensity clash at the 60,000 audience capacity Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi will decide whether the defending champion and five-time winner India will reach the finals yet again.
In the second semi-finals today itself at the same venue (beginning 6pm), Afghanistan will clash with Nepal.
Playing as host on the home ground, India will be clear favourites. India also has history on its sides. In the eight editions of SAFF, India have reached finals on seven occasions except once in 2003 in Bangladesh.
India’s record against the Indian Ocean country is pretty impressive. In previous 15 face off so far India have beaten Maldives nine times. Maldives have won on four occasions while two matches were drawn. This will be the fourth straight SAFF Championship in which India and Maldive will run into each other in the knock-out stages. India have got the better of Maldives twice, including the finals of the last edition.
However, in recent times Maldives have performed better against India. The last match meeting between the two countries was an international friendly in July which ended in a 1-1 draw. Maldives will be in top form having topped Group B.
Critics have blamed India for their draw against Afghanistan, a match they could well have ended up losing. India’s 5-0 victory against Bhutan was also criticised saying that it should have been better against the lowest ranked team. In the last match against Sri Lanka, India won but not without difficulties. They looked defensive during the first half. Overall, the Indian midfield has been blamed to be lacking in speed and creativity.
For Maldives its captain, Ali Ashfaq nicknamed “Dhagandey” often regarded as the best forward in South Asia is amid the balls. If Maldives could stop India’s forward, India might well be in trouble.
India Coach Savio Medeira said, “Ali Ashfaaq is one of the best players in the tournament. Mohammed Arif (Bakaa) is another strong player who distributes the ball all around the pitch. As a team, we will do our best to keep Ali Ashfaq quiet. He is a very good player and we will do our homework on him.”
However, the real black horse of this tournament would be the war torn nation Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been a surprise semi-finalist in this ninth edition of SAFF tournament since no one expected Afghanistan to reach till semi-final stage.
Afghanistan’s performance throughout tournament has been excellent. They held India in their first match before defeating Sri Lanka 3-1 and Bhutan 8-1 to top Group A. India finished second in Group A.
If Afghanistan makes it to the final, it will be the first major tournament in which they will reach till finals.
India Team in India Vs Maldives:
Karanjit Singh (GK); Syed Rahim Nabi, Mahesh Gawli, Gouramangi Singh, Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence (C), Rocus Lamare, Anthony Periera, Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sameer Naik.
Imran (GK), Umair, Shafiu, Assad, Akram, Shamveel, Arif, Fazeel, Ismail Mohamed, Ashfaq, Thariq (Tom)
Imran Mohammed (GK), Assad, Akram, Shafiu, Umair, Thoriq (Tom), Arif (Bakaa), Shamveel (Bonda), Ismail , Ali Ashfaaq (C) and Fazeel (Oppo)