SAFF Cup 2018 Rival Watch: Maldives
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
The southeast Asian country will look forward to their double in Bangladesh next month.
Maldives have always been a commendable team in the SAFF Cup and after falling victim to India in the last few tournaments, they will be looking to exact revenge on a relatively young Indian team this time out. The Maldives have been placed in the same group as India and Sri Lanka and while the latter might not be that big of a threat to them, the Blue Tigers will be the challenge they will be relishing for next month.
Maldives have enjoyed rich success in the SAFF Cup and have managed to perform strongly in every edition of the tournament. They have always enjoyed successful group stages and look to be among the bigger threats for defending champions India. Despite their recent wobbly form, they are not a team to be taken lightly at all as they are sending a formidable squad to Bangladesh to make sure to win the trophy they last lifted almost a decade ago.
About the Tournament
The South Asian Football Federation Cup has become a prestigious competition in South Asian football and with the region's best nations competing in it, the tournament does not lack excitement. What was initially known as the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Gold Cup, it changed into the SAFF Championship in 1997 and has retained its biennial format ever since.
The 12th edition of the Cup will take place in Bangladesh this year and the hosts last won the competition in 2003. India are the front-runners in winning the competition for the most number of times with 7 and are currently the defending champions as well. Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have also won it once each, but the latter aren't competing in the tournament this time around. With more robust teams competing in this edition, the SAFF Cup could be a highly-competitive one, in which every team will be looking to oust India and lift the trophy themselves.
About The Team
The Maldives won the SAFF Cup in 2008
The Maldives national team have been a prominent South Asian footballing nation for years now and have a very good record in the SAFF Cup. They have never been ousted in the group stages of the tournament and won the tournament when it took place in Sri Lanka in 2008. The island nation have also been runners-up three times and will look to continue that fine record by going all the way this year.
Last Edition's Performance
Maldives were pretty impressive in the SAFF Cup in 2015 and despite being put in a difficult group containing Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, they managed to perform really well. The Red Snappers thrashed Bhutan in their opening match 3-1, before also compellingly defeating Bangladesh 3-1 as well. But, they were then humbled by Afghanistan 4-1 in the last match of the group stages, which resulted in them finishing as runners-up of the group.
This resulted in them facing heavyweights India in the semi-finals, which turned out to be a classic. The two teams played out a thriller in which India narrowly won 3-2, thanks to goals from Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua. But, the Maldives won the Fair Play award for their elegant showing.
The veteran tactician led Afghanistan to the final of SAFF Cup 2015
Peter Segrt was appointed as the coach of the Maldives national team only in March 2018, with some disastrous performances forcing the country's football heirarchy to bring in the estemeed coach. Segrt's impact has been felt on Maldives' game and after a string of embarrassing losses, they defeated Bhutan 7-0 in an Asian Cup qualifier after following his appointment.
The Yugoslavian coach seems to have made some necessary tweaks to Maldives' game and let them attack more freely. He played a traditional 4-4-2 formation in the last game and will probably play a simple formation to succeed in the SAFF Cup. With it being his first real test, Segrt will hope to prove his ability by leading the Maldives to success and guiding them to their first trophy in a decade.
Goalkeepers: Hussain Shareef, Mohamed Faisal, Hassan Tholal, Mifdhadh Mohamed.
Defenders: Mohamed Mujuthaaz, Moosa Yameen, Ali Samooh, Akram Abdul Ghanee, Hussain Shifau Moosa, Ahmed Nooman, Mohamed Samir, Mohamed Saaif, Mohamed Samdhooh.
Midfielders: Mohamed Irfan, Mohamed Umair, Riham Abdul Ghanee, Hamza Mohamed, Mohamed Arif, Azzaam Abdulla, Ibrahim Hassan Waheed, Mohamed Azzaam, Abdulla Yameen, Hussain Nihan.
Forwards: Asadhullah Abdulla, Hassan Naiz, Ahmed Imaz, Ali Fasir, Mohamed Naeem, Hussain Raaif Ahmed, Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain.
Players to Watch
Hassan Naiz has come up as a really bright talent in Maldives football over the years and it's because of his impressive eye for goal that he can be a real threat to any opposition. The 22-year-old might still be relatively young, but he's had the experience of playing in a SAFF Cup and even scored against Bangladesh in the competition in 2015.
He recently scored four goals in the 7-0 thumping of Bhutan in March and looks to be extremely dangerous under Segrt. Naiz will look to make sure the absence of captain Ali Ashfaq isn't felt and prove why he can be a worthy successor to his skipper in the forward line.
Maldives' most capped player heading into the tournament, Mohamed Umair will hope to use his experience to his advantage over his opposition. Umair has been an extremely useful utility player for his country over the years and can play in defense, midfield and even attack, if needed.
However, he's most accomplished as a central midfielder and is known for his distribution and controlling skills. Umair will look to provide in defense and attack for his team and make sure they play some attractive football throughout the tournament.
Ali Faser has been a really effective winger for the Maldives and seems to have become reinvegorated under Segrt's system, which allows him to attack with more freedom. Faser has scored 11 goals in over 40 appearances for the national team and has won the Maldives Footballer of the Year award for the past two years.
He'll look to showcase his amazing technical ability and wow audiences with his dribbling skills in Bangladesh this year. Faser will be someone Segrt heavily relies on to produce the goods and if he gets into groove, Maldives can play some stunning football in the tournament.
What to Expect
The Maldives have always been a strong side in the SAFF Cup and a positive showing can be expected from them this time around as well. While they might be in a tricky group, they have the ability to overpower Sri Lanka and should make their way into the semi-finals yet again. But, if Segrt can help them break the jinx and progress into the final, the sky's the limit for the team.
They will be looking to play positive football to change the gloomy mood of the fans thanks to their recent disappointments. The Maldives could be strong contenders to lift the title seeing the positivity in the squad and an astute tactician in Segrt, enabling them to perform way higher than they usually have.
Published: Mon Aug 27, 2018 10:11 PM IST