New Delhi: South Asia`s two most dominant football nations will face each other in a highly-anticipated clash when five-time champions India take on Maldives in the semifinal of the SAFF Championships on Thursday.
Before the start of the ninth edition of the tournament, football pundits would have expected that India and Maldives, both former champions, would face each other only in the summit clash, but Afghanistan sprang a surprise.
Afghanistan, not considered title contenders before the tournament, stunned everybody by holding India in their first match before defeating Sri Lanka 3-1 and Bhutan 8-1 to top Group A, forcing the home side to be content with the second place and a semifinal clash with Maldives.
The war-torn Afghanistan are in the cusp of history as they play Nepal in the second semifinal tomorrow. If they make it to the final, it will be the first in their football history to reach the final of a major tournament.
For India though, any slip-up against Maldives at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium would be considered a disaster as they are hosting the tournament. They also played in the Asian Cup, the continent`s biggest event, early this year.
In the earlier eight editions of the regional tournament, India have been in the final on seven occasions and the only time they were not in summit clash was in 2003 in Bangladesh.
History favours India as they have beaten Maldives nine times in their 15 meetings so far. Maldives have won on four occasions while two matches were drawn.
But, it`s even stevens in the last three years. In the 2009 SAFF Championships, Maldives beat India 2-0 in the group match, though India eventually lifted the title after defeating them in the final via penalty shootout.
The last meeting between the two countries, an international friendly in July, ended in a 1-1 stalemate.