The Blue Tigers’ assistant coach praised Chhetri for his combination-play with Manvir.

In what was a must-win game for the Indian football team at the SAFF Championship 2021, the Blue Tigers rode on a sublime strike by Manvir Singh and Sunil Chhetri’s brace to beat Maldives and advance to the final. India took the lead via Manvir, before Maldives’ Ali Ashfaq equalized from a penalty. Later, in the second half, Chhetri scored twice to secure a memorable victory. However, Igor Stimac was red-carded during the match and hence it was Shanmugam Venkatesh who spoke in the post-match press conference.

“We’re happy about reaching the finals. The players are feeling very good. To make it to the finals was our primary vision,” Venkatesh began.

He further added, “This win was special, also because the SAFF Championship is the first time where we’re playing in front of a packed audience since the onset of COVID-19. As a result, the players are happy with how they’ve performed and the end result.”

On match-winners

As mentioned already, Chhetri’s brace became a crucial factor in India’s win over Maldives. He also won the Man of the Match award for his display. However, Shanmugam Venkatesh dismissed the notion of the Blue Tigers’ skipper being the sole match-winner. “The victory was a result of the entire team’s efforts. It happened as a result of the combination of many players. Of course, Sunil played really well and combined well with Manvir.

“All in all, the coach had a game-plan and every player made sure that he stuck to it. That’s how we got this result,” he said.

On game-plan

The Indian team exhibited a more attacking intent against Maldives, when compared to their efforts in the previous matches against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. When asked about it, Venkatesh, who is the team’s assistant coach, said, “Maldives are one of the best sides in the SAFF region on a technical point of view. When you face such a side, a suitable approach has to be planned.

“Our situation was also different unlike previous matches, as you know. This was a must-win game, so the motivation was of a different kind. Overall, these reasons played a role in the improved attacking intent,” he added.

On final

A few hours before India beat Maldives, Nepal forced a draw against Bangladesh and reached the final. Shanmugam Venkatesh and Co. will hence face Abdullah Almutairi’s boys in the all-important clash on October 16.

“We haven’t started thinking about the final yet,” said Venkatesh. “The players’ conditions have to be assessed first and only afterwards will we make our plans for the game. There’s definitely going to be a lot of pressure, but as I said earlier, the team are enjoying playing in front of spectators. I think that this enjoyment will play a bigger role in the final than any pressure. I’d also like to appreciate the Maldivian football community for their passion towards the game.”

The team’s assistant coach also addressed Subhasish Bose’s red card situation and the fact that he will miss the final.

“It’s not a big worry for us. We have other players in our squad. There’s no doubt as to the fact that whoever plays will be motivated enough to try and do well on the day. We’re not just an XI, we have fine options on our bench also,” he concluded.

For more football updates, follow Khel Now on TwitterInstagram and join our community on Telegram.