India play Nepal in search of semifinal berth in SAFF C`ships
Kathmandu: Listless so far in the tournament, defending champions India take on hosts Nepal in their last group match with a semifinal berth at stake in the SAFF Football Championships here on Thursday.
India need a draw from tomorrow`s Group A match at the Dasarath Stadium to qualify for semifinals. But with the lacklustre performance they have dished out so far, it would not be easy for Wim Koevermans men to achieve that against a team which will have overwhelming crowd support.
Having opened their campaign by scrapping past Pakistan who gifted a goal and then almost being beaten by Bangladesh before managing a last-gasp equaliser yesterday, India never looked like a team which would defend its title.
The group is wide open and all the four teams have a chance to make it to the semifinals after playing two matches each. Nepal and India are on four points with a goal difference of plus two and plus one respectively while Pakistan and Bangladesh are on one point with minus one and minus two goal difference respectively.
Even if India lose tomorrow, they will still qualify for the semifinals if Pakistan beat Bangladesh in the other group match which will be played simultaneously.
This is so because India had beaten Pakistan and head-to-head result will be considered first in case their is a tie between two teams. If India lose to Nepal tomorrow without scoring a goal and Bangladesh beat Pakistan by a margin of two goals, then Koevermans` men will be out of the tournament.
India would, however, begin as overwhelming favourites tomorrow if past history is to go by as they have won nine out of 11 matches the two sides have played till now with Nepal yet to post a victory. Two matches were drawn.
India had also emerged victorious in the last two meetings between the two teams in the SAFF Championships. They had beaten Nepal 2-1 in Karachi in 2005 and 4-0 in the 2008 edition in Male. But the last meeting between the two sides resulted in a 0-0 stalemate in the 2012 Nehru Cup in New Delhi.
Koevermans knows fully well the impact the crowd support can have on a team but said his players are raring to go.
"Across the world, a packed stadium defines football. The atmosphere at Dasrath Stadium is just wonderful. Obviously the home support will be an extra help for Nepal. But that`s how it goes," Koevermans said after the team`s training session at the Police Headquarters Ground on Wednesday.
"We are ready. It will be a tough match and though there are a lot of equations involved, we are not getting into it," said the Dutchman.
Koevermans though was not happy with the scheduling of the tournament.
"Playing every alternate day will have its effect. Players often carry that fatigue into the next match and the energy tank gets empty. But the medical team is working 24x7," he said.
Talking about his players wasting chances in the last two games, Koevermans said, "Unless you score there`s every chance that you will suffer in the end. A lot of players had their chances but were unable to find the back of the net."
Match Starts: 3.15pm IST.