The Red Snappers are currently placed second in the points’ table.

On Wednesday, India and Maldives will lock horns in what is a crucial contest for both teams in the SAFF Championship 2021. Maldives are placed second in the points table and need just a draw to cement their place in the final. On the other hand, Igor Stimac and Co. need a win. Only one of the two teams will advance to the all-important clash, which is set to take place on October 16 and Maldivian head coach Ali Suzain was reminded of the same in the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

“We know what the scenario is like. In terms of the points, we’re ahead. But, we have 90 minutes plus injury time remaining to consolidate our position in the final. Table-toppers Nepal also need just one point only. So, we can’t afford to be satisfied with a draw. We’ll aim for the maximum only, which is a win,” Suzain said, while interacting with the media.

He went on to speak about their opponents India, the preparations ahead of the match and more:

The Indian football team

Ali Suzain regards the upcoming game as a virtual ‘semi-final.’ “Although the SAFF Championship is a round-robin tournament, the upcoming game is like a semi-final. India have got fewer points than us so far, but we’ll respect them and move forward. Whenever we face them, we know how good they are – but we’re taking the positives from our previous games in the tournament,” he began.

The 52-year-old further added, “Secondly, they have a good striker in Sunil Chhetri. He’s one of their best-ever and his numbers speak for him. We have a similar player in Ali Ashfaq and it’s going to be a real show of strength between both of them. Chhetri’s goal against Sri Lanka was marvellous and it shows his quality. And we have Ashfaq – so it will be two outstanding players playing against each other tomorrow.

“Regarding the status of India, yes, they’re the powerhouse of the SAFF region. Each and every SAFF nation sees India as the top nation. If you want to win a SAFF Championship, you need to beat the Indian team at some point – either in the finals or before.”

Pre-game preparations

The Maldivian team’s head coach echoed Igor Stimac’s sentiment from last week, saying that recovery of players is the Red Snappers’ biggest challenge going forward. “Since the matches follow each other very closely, the biggest issue we have regarding players is that of their recovery. We’re working on it. The team is ready in all other aspects, including the prospect of facing a team like the Blue Tigers,” he said.

Suzain also spoke about his team’s defensive performances, in particular. “In the three matches so far, our defence was strong and conceded just one goal. Everyone – including the players who are on the bench – have helped. We’re working together as a team and going forward that way. That can be seen in our performances,” the tactician pointed out.

“If you’ve noticed our performances, we’ve tried to play a very organized style of football, while trying to maintain ball possession. That’s the plan tomorrow as well.”

The importance of the game in his coaching career

Ali Suzain was the assistant coach of the Maldives side that lost to India in the semi-final of the SAFF Cup in 2005. He was hence asked as to what tomorrow’s game means to him.

“This match, like all others, is not going to be about individual accolades,” the 52-year-old replied. “It will be about the collective performance of the team and what they can achieve by doing so. Regardless of a win or loss, we’ll be together. All throughout my coaching career, we’ve won some and also lost some. When we lose we’re unhappy, but we move on. I’ve always worked for the good of Maldivian football and that’s how it is going to be.

“We should be together as a team and only then can we achieve our targets,” he further added.

The fans’ support

Ali Suzain also lavished praise on the supporters of the Maldivian national team and kept referring to them throughout the course of the media interaction.

“We are very happy with all our fans, who we consider as our 12th player. They’ve stayed in queues for as long as 18 to 20 hours to procure a single matchday ticket and that shows how inspired they are. It is evident as to how important the Maldivian national team is for them. We’re happy to see that the whole nation is behind us. That will give us the strength and we hope to go forward, bearing in mind that the 12th player is with us,” the former player said.

“Every time the Maldivian national team plays, there is pressure on us. But we take it positively because the 12th player is with us. On that context, we’re happy that the SAFF Championship is happening here in Maldives.

He added, “To the fans, do have patience in us. Your prayers and well-wishes are important. Do keep us in your thoughts, we will fight till the end to make you happy.”

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