| India captain Sunil Chetri and his Afghan counterpart Fakhruddin Amiri with the SAFF Cup, in Kathmandu, on Tuesday. (PTI) |
Calcutta/ Kathmandu: Having notched up a morale-boosting semi-final victory against Maldives, defending champions India will try to maintain their supremacy in the SAFF Championship when they take on Afghanistan in the summit clash, in Kathmandu 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 Chetri 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 still feel poor refereeing (by Sukhbir Singh of Singapore) let us down. 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 semi-final, where there strategy worked out wonderfully.
With Gouramangi Singh in splendid form at the heart of defence and young Arnab Mondal deriving a lot of confidence from that winning goal, India will go into the match in a fine frame of mind.
The return of captain Sunil Chetri, 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 Dutch coach Wim Koevermans, 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.
Mehtab Hossain puts it aptly. “This is an Indian team in transition. You have to understand that we had a set team under earlier coach (Bob Houghton), used to have regular 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 was full of praise for Chetri.“I have played against Chetri a lot of times and he is a good player. We have to be on alert,” Amiri said.
Meanwhile, it was announced that India will host the 2015 edition of the SAFF Championships.
Match starts: 6.15 pm (IST).