SAFF Football Championship Final: India vs Afghanistan - Preview
Kathmandu: Having notched up a morale-boosting semifinal victory against Maldives, defending champions Indian team will try to maintain their supremacy in the SAFF Football Championship when they take on a tough Afghanistan in the summit clash here on Wednesday.
On paper, Afghans are a superior side with a FIFA ranking of 139 to India`s 145 as well as seven of their first XI footballers plying their trade in the lower tier leagues of the United States and Germany.
Medio Mustafa Azadzoy and defender Mustafa Hadid play in German league while forward Mohammed Yusuf has played in the US.
For Sunil Chhetri and his team, winning the SAFF Championship would be a thankless affair. India have won the trophy six times in the first nine editions having failed to reach the semis only once.
However, they have a solid Afghanistan team as an opposition, who were thrashed 0-4 in the final of the last edition held in New Delhi.
"We definitely want to take revenge on this India team as we felt that were hard done by the referee (Singaporean Sukhbir Singh) during the last edition. We are a far superior side than India, technically and physically," Afghanistan`s assistant coach Ali Jawad Attaii declared through his interpreter - team captain Fakhruddin Amiri, who incidentally plays for I-League side Mumbai FC.
India will take a lot out of their win against Maldives in the semifinal, where there strategy worked out wonderfully.
With Gourmangi Singh in splendid form at the heart of defence and young Arnab Mondal deriving a lot of confidence from that winning goal, India would go into the match in a fine frame of mind.
The return of captain Sunil Chhetri, who is now a couple of goals shy of being India`s highest scorer in international circuit will be a shot in the arm for the Dutch coach, who has preferred playing with a single striker employing a 4-5-1 formation rather than the usual 4-4-2.
Robin Singh, whose body advantage did work in favour of Indian team in the semis, is expected to return to the dug-out.
While Izumi Arata, who was impressive during his 75-minute stay on the pitch against Maldives, looks a doubtful starter with a back injury, Jewel Raja Sheikh is expected to fill in that attacking hole.
Jeje Lalpeklhua will be starting on wide left while Francisco Fernandes will man the right wing. The senior-most player in the line-up (in terms of age) Mehtab Hossain put it aptly.
"This is an Indian team in transition. You have to understand that we had a set team under earlier coach (Bob Houghton) and would have long camps and played a lot of matches," he explained.
"This team hasn`t had long camps and we have hardly played too many international matches. Give the youngsters some time and also some long duration camps are needed," he added.
Afghanistan captain Amiri, who plays for Mumbai FC and has been pitted against Chhetri in I-League a lot of times was full of praise for the Indian captain.
"I have played against Chhetri a lot of times and he is a good player. We have to be alert about him," Amiri said.
The Indian skipper, however, said that familiarity counts for little when they play in final tomorrow.
"It`s not a one-on-one where I am playing against Amiri or Belal (Churchill Brothers). It`s an Indian team playing against Afghanistan. It was very difficult to watch the semi-final from the stands and even more difficult to digest that we were not considered good enough to win the tournament," he said.
"We have won it so many times that when I play SAFF, I have felt that this is trophy is ours," the Delhi lad said about what looks like would be an interesting final.
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