The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Injuries put India in spot
- SAFF CuP l Champions’ crucial match vs Afghanistan today

Dhaka, Jan. 11 (PTI): Still licking the wounds of their stunning defeat to arch-rivals Pakistan, India will have to put up a far more inspiring performance whey they take on debutants Afghanistan in a group A league match of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) soccer tournament here Sunday.

India’s quest for a hattrick of titles received a setback when they slumped to a solitatry goal defeat to Pakistan in their first match Friday, and injury worries to two key players Alvito D’Cunha and Subhas Chakraborty was another big jolt.

That, after the team had to come here without their top four players, including star striker Bhaichung Bhutia.

Coach Stephen Constantine was hopeful that the two injured players would be fit for Sunday’s game. “I am quite hopeful that they will be fit. But we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

The absence of the four players did make a difference as the Indians appeared to be a pale shadow of themselves against Pakistan to suffer their first defeat against their old foes in over a decade.

Without the services of Bhaichung, the team’s inability to score was also exposed as none of the strikers could really make much of an impact.

Ageing striker I. M. Vijayan, recalled into the national team after a long gap, seemed much to slow upfront and was guilty of muffing at least two scoring opportunities in the inaugural match.

Constantine hinted that there could be a few changes in the stating line-up Sunday though he did not give details.

“We could not play to our potential in the first match against Pakistan. I knew the matches will be tough, and we cannot take any team lightly. We have to improve our game,” he said.

Afghanistan, despite not having much of a football reputation in the region, were quite capable of upsetting the applecart of any fancied team on their day.

The debutants lost the first match against Sri Lanka 0-1, but gave ample proof of their fighting spirit and skill by keeping their stronger opponents at bay for most part of the contest.

The Indians had a practice session at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in the afternoon but the two injured players skipped the session.

In the other match Sunday Pakistan take on Sri Lanka.

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