|Sunil Chetri, Mehtab Hussain and Subrata Paul during practice, in Kathmandu, on Wednesday. Picture courtesy AIFF
Calcutta/Kathmandu: Having put up listless performances so far in the SAFF Championships, defending champions India will hope to make amends when they take on hosts Nepal in their last Group A match, with a semi-final berth at stake, on Thursday.
India need a draw from Thursday’s match at the Dasarath Stadium to qualify for semi-finals. But with the lacklustre performance they have dished out so far, it would not be easy for Wim Koevermans’ boys to achieve the desired result, especially when they are facing a team who will have overwhelming crowd support.
Having opened their campaign by edging past Pakistan, courtesy a goal from opposition captain, and then eking a draw with Bangladesh, India never looked like a team who would defend their title.
The group is wide open and all the four teams have a chance to make it to the semi-finals after playing two matches each. Nepal and India are on four points with a goal difference of plus two and plus one, respectively, while Pakistan and Bangladesh are on one point with minus one and minus two goal difference, respectively.
Even if India lose on Thursday, they can still qualify for the last-four stage if Pakistan beat Bangladesh.
The fact that India had beaten Pakistan in the group match will help their cause as head-to-head result will be considered if two teams are on same points. If India go down to Nepal without scoring a goal and Bangladesh beat Pakistan by a margin of two goals, then Koevermans’ boys will be out of the tournament.
India would, however, begin as overwhelming favourites if you go by the statistics. They have won nine out of 11 matches and have drawn two matches against Nepal.
Koevermans knows fully well the impact the crowd support can have on a team but said his players are raring to go. “Across the world, a packed stadium defines football. The atmosphere at the Stadium is just wonderful. Obviously the home support will be an extra help for Nepal. But that’s how it goes,” Koevermans said after the team’s training session on Wednesday.
“It will be a tough match… But we are ready for the challenge,” said the Dutchman. Koevermans though was not happy with the scheduling of the tournament. “Playing every alternate day will have its effect. Players often carry that fatigue into the next match and the energy tank gets empty. But the medical team is working 24x7,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Maldives trounced Bhutan 8-2, while Afghanistan beat Sri Lanka 3-1, in Group B .
Match starts: 3.15pm IST.