New Delhi: Football laggards South Asia`s showpiece tournament SAFF Championships begins on Friday with regional powerhouse India seeking their sixth title under a new coach and set of new players.
The ninth edition of the biennial tournament, which will be kicked off with the Group B league match between Pakistan and Bangladesh tomorrow, will see eight teams from the region vying for top honours at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which is going to host a football match after a long time.
All the teams in the tournament are ranked at the lowest quarter among 200-odd countries of the FIFA with Bangladesh at highest spot at 142nd ahead of Nepal 143rd and India 162nd.
Maldives are at 166th, Pakistan 174th, Sri Lanka 176th, Afghanistan at 178th and Bhutan at lowest spot at 198th.
India had won the tournament five times, including the inaugural edition, while Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives had emerged champions once.
With the tournament returning to the country after a gap of 12 years after Goa hosted in 1999, India would fancy defending the title they won in 2009 in Bangladesh.
India are playing their first tournament under new coach Savio Medeira and with new players in the form of the likes of goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, defender Jaspal Parmar and striker Jeje Lalpekhlua in their ranks.
India`s morale was not at their highest after their 0-5 drubbing by Zambia on November 28 at Goa and coach Medeira understandably said defending SAFF title won`t be easy.
"I don`t think we cannot win the tournament. We can, the boys are giving their best. It will depend a lot on the given day, the opposition. If we don`t perform on the given day, I don`t think it`s going to be easy," he said.
He said failing to defend the title would not be a letdown as the team did not get "enough time to prepare".