The hosts will look to secure their third title victory in this edition of the tournament.

As the hosts of the SAFF Championship 2021, Maldives are a side to beat for the rest of the four participating teams. The defending champions have a balanced side with plenty of experienced players combined with stars in their peak.

The team flew to Doha to prepare for the title defence and will start the campaign against Nepal. With conditions on their side, Maldives are a significant obstacle for India – who are relatively underprepared as compared to the other nations in this edition. Here is a specific look into the Maldives national team which will contest in this edition’s SAFF Championships.

Recent Performances

SAFF Championship Malaysia
The Malaysia squad for the SAFF Championship 2021 (via Maldives FA)

The Maldives national team contested in the joint FIFA World Cup & AFC Asian Cup qualifying fixtures earlier in 2021. The second round of the campaign was the last official set of matches they played.

Before pulling off a 1-1 draw against the Philippines in the final qualifier game, the side suffered heavy 4-0 and 5-0 defeats against Syria and China respectively. Managing a draw and two wins in the second round of Group A fixtures, the island nation finished ahead of Guam in the group with seven points.

About The Team

As the defending champions and the hosts, Maldives are one of the strongest contenders in the SAFF Championships in 2021. They did not enjoy much success under Dutch coach Martin Koopman as their World Cup qualifying campaign only had two victories against a relatively weak Guam side. Since then, Ali Suzain has taken over as the interim head coach of the team.

Much of the national side still consists of the players who participated in the 2018 SAFF Suzuki Cup. With an experienced core and other players who are at their peak, the team can be expected to grind out results. The Maldives national team is currently in a preparatory camp in Doha and secured a thrilling 4-3 victory against local second division side Lusail in a friendly.

The Coach

The Maldives will have Ali Suzain as their head coach following Martin Koopman’s last-minute exit as a head coach. Currently a caretaker manager, Suzain was recently appointed as the Maldives U-23 boss, tasked to lead them in the AFC U-23 qualifying campaign. The 52-year-old was also tasked with the U-23 job in 2007, prior to this instance.

Despite being a new name to this job, Suzain has enjoyed a fair share of experience in coaching. The tactician has led domestic sides like Victory SC, Maziya, Thinadhoo, and Club Green Streets. After leading teams to multiple FA Cups and other domestic success, he will look to defend the SAFF Championships title with the national team this time.

Players to Watch

Ali Ashfaq

Ali Ashfaq
Ali Ashfaq top-scored in the SAFF Championship eight years ago (via Maldives FA)

Prolific goalscorers who are capable of delivering consistently are rare all over the world. Ali Ashfaq, however, stands as an exception to this notion. At 36 years of age, the 2013 SAFF Championships top scorer is set to lead his side to glory once again.

The Club Eagles striker is a capable poacher. He can also make quick agile movements like a shadow striker. Either way, Ashfaq is capable of creating goalscoring chances for himself. The left-footed striker is nicknamed ‘Man of Steel’ and he might set a reminder why he’s called that in the tournament once again.

Ibrahim Mahudhee

Maziya S&RC’s Ibrahim Mahudhee is another attacker who is capable of leaving his mark in this year’s tournament. An attacking midfielder by trade, Mahudhee enjoys operating around the box. At 28 years of age, the playmaker has represented the Maldives 14 times and has scored twice.

Considering Maldives’ attacking lineup, Mahudhee’s role will be more crucial than ever. With a prolific striker up front and wingers who can run and send balls inside the box, he will be the link for the islanders to set up a lethal attack.

Hamza Mohamed

26-year-old Hamza Mohamed is yet another attacker who can stand out at home for Maldives in the SAFF Championships 2021. Mohamed was a part of Maziya’s AFC Cup group stage journey, where he played all three games, registering a goal and an assist. A winger by nature, he is able to make runs and drift both ways while on the break.

Despite his age, Mohamed slots in as an experienced campaigner for the Maldives. Since his debut in 2015, he has scored two goals in 38 appearances. After a relatively impressive season with Maziya, the winger will look to continue his form in the national teams’ colors.

What to Expect

The home advantage and the mix of experience with the talent that they have in the squad makes this Maldives team one of the top contenders to reach the final. The round robin format will require a depth, and that is where they will be tested. With players who are above 30 in their line-up, this can be a hard hill to climb.

However, the quality that they have, coupled with their preparation should be enough to put them as a heavyweight. In addition, the team has a reliable midfield and attack to bag enough goals at this stage. As they have shown in the past, heavy wins are possible for this side. Although consistency will be the key term here.

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