India not to take Afghanistan lightly in SAFF campaign opener
New Delhi: Seeking their sixth title in the regional showpiece football tournament, India would look to open their SAFF Championships campaign on a positive note when they take on Afghanistan on Saturday.
India, playing their first tournament under new coach Savio Medeira, start as favourites against the lowest ranked team among the eight participating nations but the home team can take their rivals lightly at their own peril in the Group A match at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
In the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in Hyderabad, India could only beat Afghanistan by a solitary goal in the injury time (90+2) in the campaign opener.
India are also a bit down on morale after their 0-5 thrashing by Zambia in the international friendly on November 29 and they would want to begin the tournament with a win.
Medeira, who was deputy to then coach Bob Houghton in the AFC Challenge Cup match, refused to take Afghanistan lightly and said his men will have to give their best to earn full points on Saturday.
"In football, the team which plays better on that particular day wins. We have prepared ourselves to the best of our ability and the boys are going to give their 100 per cent. That is important. We are confident that we can beat Afghanistan. But at the same time, we are not taking them lightly," Medeira said after team`s training session at Ambedkar Stadium.
India will, however, be boosted by the return of two strikers Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua, who did not play against Zambia as they were away in Scotland for a trial at Glasgow Rangers.
Medeira did not say that the strike duo would start tomorrow but they are expected to play a part in the match depending on the situation of the game.
"They are the best strikers available in the country. But whether they will play or not will be decided at the team meeting tomorrow," Medeira said.
The back-four of Gouramangi Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Samir Naik and Syed Rahim Nabi leaked goals against Zambia but Medeira is unlikely to tinker with the line-up unless the last two, who are having niggles, do not take the field tomorrow.
Striker Joaquim Abranches is another player, who is nursing a niggle but Medeira said there was no need to worry. Sushil Kumar is the fourth striker named in the 20-member final Indian squad.
Captain Climax Lawrence is expected to partner either Jewel Raja or Rocus Lamare at the centre of the park.
Afghanistan, only the second team in the competition along with India to have a home-grown coach in Mohammed Farid, have a couple of players who play in German third division and they would be looking to upset the Indian applecart if possible.
India Squad: Karanjit Singh, Subhashish Roy Chaudhari, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Mahesh Gawli, Nirmal Chettri, Samir Naik, Syed Rahim Nabi, Govin Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Climax Lawrence (C), Anthony Pereira, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja, Lalrindika Ralte, Steven Dias, Rocus Lamare, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sushil Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Joaquim Abranches.