| Indian players during a practice session, on Tuesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha |
New Delhi: India face a stern test when they take on Sri Lanka in the concluding Group A match of the SAFF championship, at the Nehru Stadium, here, on Wednesday.
With four points in their kitty, India need only a draw to make the semi-finals, while Sri Lanka will have to get all the three points to stay in contention. India cannot allow Sri Lanka to win as it would bring an end to their campaign in the tournament.
Under normal circumstances, it would not have been a matter of worry for India, who are definitely superior to the islanders. But In the current meet, the home side are still struggling and have done little to boost the confidence of the fans.
Fatigue and lack of fitness have hit Indian footballers the most. It is also the most under-prepared side in the tournament because of the demanding domestic schedule. While all other teams have come here after long preparations, the Indian camp for this meet lasted only five days.
We have been playing almost non-stop for the last three and half months, said a senior footballer, who did not wish to be named. It started with the Federation Cup, then the I-League and the local league and international commitments like friendlies against Malaysia and Zambia.
The footballer pointed out that if India make the final, then most of the team members will have to rush back to their respective clubs the very next day to play two I-League matches in the next five days. Its a miserable schedule, he complained.
Chief coach Savio Medeira also spoke about lack of time he got with his wards. The players assembled in Goa only on November 26 and SAAF started on December 2. In between, we also played a friendly against Zambia. My staff members, however, are working very hard keep the players fit, said the coach.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) sources said medical reports have strongly recommended rest for most of the players. The fitness level can never be improved without having separate planning for the senior national team, the official said.
Still, on Wednesday, the Medeira is unlikely to take any risk and expected to field only the tried and tested ones. While Steven Dias will surely make a comeback in place of Anthony Pereira, wing back Samir Naik, who sat out against Bhutan because of an ankle injury, may also get a start.
Sri Lankan coach D. Chandrasiri said his team was ready to surprise India. We have not travelled all the way to Delhi return home after the group stage, he quipped.