SAFF Cup: Favourites India Expect to Defend Title Again as Maldives Stand in the Way
India, the defending champions, have had five different scorers finding the back of the net seven times in three games with only one conceded in the process. Not so comfortable wins for the young side against Sri Lanka (2-0) and Maldives (2-0) were followed up with a more charged-up performance against neighbours Pakistan (3-1) in the semi-final.
India, comprising mostly of U-23 players, will miss the pace of the suspended Lallianzuala Chhangte. Midfielders Anirudh Thapa and Vinit Rai are expected to pull the strings once again in midfield to provide service for Manvir Singh and co up front.
However, the defence has been hardly tested in the competition and it is likely to follow the same trend on Saturday evening with Maldives finding scoring goals to be quite the task. Vishal Kaith is undoubtedly hoping for a third clean sheet, but will have to be wary of set pieces as Maldives’ Akram Abdul Ghanee won’t shy away from trying to curl it in just like he did in the semi-final.
“We have struggled in the group stages but we’re in the final now. This is our biggest chance. We haven’t played the final in nine years. We’re well prepared and we’re going to fight to win the tournament,” captain of Maldives Ghanee said ahead of the final.
Underdogs in the contest, Maldives are coached by Croatian Peter Segrt are aware of the task in hand and must find a way to stop India from playing to stand a chance. Set plays and attacking on the counter will be their most crucial weapons as they aim for a second title. In four attempts, they’ve won the summit clash once. Twice have they lost to India before this and have only beaten them once.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) September 14, 2018
“Maldives have shown their worth with the semi-final win against Nepal which was not an easy task. Some of their players didn’t play against us and they did some major damage work against Nepal,” India coach Stephen Constantine told AIFF ahead of the final.
“We are expecting a tough game against Maldives. But as I said before, we have come with a strong intent to win the tournament.”
Manvir Singh, one of the brightest spots for India so far and currently the leading goal scorer in the tournament with three goals to his name will look to add more to his tally in order to impress the coach, who has placed the Asian Cup in January as bait for the youngsters.
Traditionally the team to beat in the region, the Blue Tigers have won the competition seven times, twice defending their crown in 1999 and 2011. Anything but a repeat will be considered a failure.
Overwhelming favourites India was far from convincing in their group stage win against Maldives, but still got the job done. The summit clash seems a comfortable prospect on paper yet the Indians are likely to be their own enemy if complacency creeps in.