| ASHIM: ‘A revelation’
Dhaka: Having launched their title defence on an embarrassing note, a determined India will face their stiffest challenge when they lock horns with Sri Lanka in their last group-A league match of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) tournament here on Tuesday.
The Indians need only a draw to move into the semi-finals on a better goal difference but will leave no stone unturned to put it across the islanders in what promises to be a thrilling contest of nerves and skill at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
But the defending champions, without the services of four key players including star striker Bhaichung Bhutia, have not really lived upto their potential in the tournament so far and coach Stephen Constantine will be hoping for an improved show by his wards.
Shamed by arch-rivals Pakistan in their opening group match, the Indians fashioned an emphatic 4-0 win over debutants Afghanistan in their next match, though the coach was not entirely happy with the performance.
India’s victory margin against Afghanistan has bolstered their prospects of a semi-final berth and the pressure will be on Sri Lanka who have no option but to win their last match.
“The win (against Afghanistan) was crucial for as that has helped us to settle into a groove,” said Constantine.
The coach also held striker Ashim Biswas, who netted twice after coming on as a substitute in that match, in high esteem. “Ashim was a revelation. We were going through a goal- scoring drought but he changed that yesterday,” he said.
Constantine did not reveal his starting eleven for Tuesday’s match, but indicated that Vijayan was a doubtful starter.
Captain Debjit Ghosh said the team will go all out for a win. “I think we are well capable of defeating Sri Lanka, so playing for a draw is out of the question,” said a confident Debjit after the practice on Monday.
Sri Lanka know they have no option but to press for victory. “We will consider it as a final match,” said their Brazilian coach Marcus Ferreira.
But Ferreira was worried about injury concerns to some players. Midfielder Imran received a blow during the match against Pakistan while central defender Shameem has been ruled out of the tournament after he tore a ligament.
The Sri Lankans managed to scrape past Afghanistan by a solitary goal in their first match before going down to Pakistan 1-2 in their next encounter.
With two wins, Pakistan have already romped into the last four stage from the group.
Bangladesh in last four
Bangladesh edged past Maldives through a 90th-minute strike from Arif Khan to book a semi-final berth while Nepal’s Niranjan Rayamajhi and Kumar Thapa scored a goal apiece to beat Bhutan 2-0 in the SAFF Cup on Monday.
Nepal and Maldives, both on three points from two matches, will face each other on Wednesday to decide on the other semi-final berth from group B.