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India or Maldives : Who’ll become the South Asian football champions?

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The Blue Tigers will look to replicate their performance against the Maldives in the group stage of the tournament. 

Two non-identical stories turned into similar narratives as India and Maldives cruised to the final of the 2018 SAFF Championship. The Maldives blanked Nepal 3-0, while India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan to set up the showdown battle. The final will be played at the Bangabandhu Stadium, Dhaka, Bangladesh and the game will start at 6:30 PM IST.

India will start as favourites, having defeated the opponents 2-0 during the group phase. The Blue Tigers conceded their first goal in three games last time out and have already scored seven. Striker Manvir Singh has led the line well, converting chances to numbers three times. On the other hand, the Maldives will hope that Ibrahim Waheed Hassan will be on fire again, having scored a brace against Pakistan.

The Maldives will look for inspiration from 2008, when they defeated India 1-0 in the final in Sri Lanka. India had earlier defeated them in the group stage, courtesy a Gouramangi Singh goal, but failed to hit the target in the title decider. Petar Segrt will expect his lads to defend resolutely to add to the solitary SAFF title in the country’s cabinet.

About The Teams

India

India feature a team with U-23 players and the tournament was reckoned to be the precursor in terms of preparation for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2019. The South Asian tournament was seen as the acid test for the lads, if they want to be on the flight to the United Arab Emirates.

Stephen Constantine must be worried about Lallianzuala Chhangte’s red card against Pakistan that rules him out of the game, but it opens a window of opportunity for FC Pune City boy Ashique Kuruniyan. Kuruniyan has been on song whenever he’s taken the pitch and can be expected to add substance down the left wing for the Indians.

India's probable lineup against Maldives in the SAFF Cup 2018 final



In the backline, Sarthak Golui made some questionable mistakes, failing to stake a claim on the left centre-back position. Davinder Singh had earned a yellow card against the Maldives in the group stage game, but had a decent, disciplined performance against Pakistan and is expected to start in the final.

Everything else looks set for India. Metronomic passer Vinit Rai has struck a decent partnership with midfield general Anirudh Thapa and the pair looks set to start again. Nikhil Poojary has made the right wing his own after good performances against the Maldives and Pakistan. Kuruniyan will be on the left, with Farukh Chaudhary coming in centrally. Manvir Singh is immovable up top.

Subhashish Bose may play as left-back or centre-back and his positioning will ensure the presence of either Jerry Lalrinzuala or Golui. The former Bengaluru FC defender has shared captaincy responsibilities with Thapa and the midfielder can be expected to wear the armband in the next game. Salam Ranjan Singh will start in central defense, irrespectively. 

Maldives

Mukhtar Naseer may have retired, but the Maldives still have the services of Asadhullah Abdulla, Hassan Naiz and Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain, forwards equally capable of upsetting the seven-time champions. With able support from the midfield in the form of Ibrahim Waheed Hassan and Mohamed Irufaan, they can certainly upset the Indian applecart.

Watch: Maldives had previously faced India in the group stage of the ongoing SAFF Suzuki Cup

The goalline is marshalled by Mohamed Faisal, with Akram Ghanee and Ali Samooh manning him centrally. Mohamed Samdooh will be expected to start at left-back, even after his late substitution in the last game. Hussain Shifau Yoosuf has been on song at right-back and looks set to continue.

Hamzath Mohamed and Ali Fasir will continue to be the Maldivian creative outlets, flanking the left and right wing respectively. The team fights high and the central midfielders and defenders can be expected to spray long passes to the wingers. If India are to stop their flow, it needs to be done with a wide shape and well-positioned full-backs.

Coaches' Corner

Stephen Constantine (India)

"Maldives have shown their worth in the semi-final against Nepal. A 3-0 win against Nepal was not an easy task. Some of their players didn't play against us and they did some major damage work against Nepal,” Constantine stated. “We are expecting a tough game against the Maldives. But, as I said before, we have come with a strong intent to win the tournament.”

“I’m pleased with our progress. We deserve to be in the final. Maldives were excellent against Nepal. They have great players. They have our full respect but we fear no one.”


Read more: We respect Maldives but India doesn't fear anybody– Stephen Constantine


Petar Segrt (Maldives)

“I’m very proud of all our players and the staff. This is a huge success for us to be in the final of this competition. We respect India, they’re a big opponent. But this is our chance which we want to take”

Players' Corner

 Akram Abdul Ghanee (Maldives)

“We have struggled in the group stages but we’re in the final now. This is our biggest chance. We haven’t played the final in 9 years. We’re well prepared and we’re going to fight to win the tournament.” 

Subhashish Bose (India) 

"The captain's armband is a huge honour for me and I felt within myself that I have become a more confident and responsible person now.” 


Read more: The captain's armband is a huge honour and brings more responsibility– Subhashish Bose and Anirudh Thapa


Manvir Singh ( India ) 

“Discipline is something which cannot be ever compromised when you are playing for the National Team. It leaves a huge impression in the build-up of a person’s character, especially a player’s. It helps us build our character from within.”


Read more: You need to be disciplined while playing for the National Team– Manvir Singh


Manvir Singh leads the goalscoring charts with just the final to go. Can Ibrahim Waheed catch up? Or could we have a surprise late entry into this list from either side?

Head-to-Head

The teams roughly go back 30 years in the history of the game, having met each other for the first time in 1987, on November 30. The match was part of the South Asian Federation Games and India won 5-0. Since then, the countries have battled 13 times on the football pitch, with the Blue Tigers winning the duel eight times, drawing twice and losing thrice.

The biggest margin remains the one that was set in the first game. 10 years from that date, India came close to replicating the same scoreline, but a goal from the Maldives saw the game end 5-1. India have won the last five games, most recently in the group stage of the ongoing tournament.

Venue

The Bangabandhu Stadium has seen several renovations, one just before the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The stadium hosts 36,000 people and is situated in the capital city of Dhaka. With a field size of 105 × 68 metres and the Desso GrassMaster surface, the pitch is second to none in terms of quality.


ALSO READ

The Maldives are tough opponents– Stephen Constantine

The Indian U-16 team: Know your players, strengths, weaknesses and more!

Talking Points: Can Manvir Singh challenge for a regular start in Indian colours?


Probable Lineups

India

Vishal Kaith, Davinder Singh, Salam Ranjan Singh, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Subhasish Bose, Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Ashique Kuruniyan, Farukh Chaudhary, Nikhil Poojary, Manvir Singh

Maldives

Mohamed Faisal, Shifau Yoosuf, Mohamed Samdooh, Abdul Ghanee, Ali Samooh, Hussain Nihan, Waheed Hassan, Hamzath Mohamed, Ibrahim Hussain, Ali Fasir, Abdulla Asadhulla

Players To Watch Out

Anirudh Thapa (India)

Manvir Singh may be doing the goal-scoring, and Salam Ranjan Singh may be coordinating the defence, but there’s one boy-turned-man who’s controlling everything that the Indian football team is doing - Anirudh Thapa. The young midfielder has a mature head on his shoulders and has taken responsibility like fish to water.

Enjoying the bated passing of the disciplined Vinit Rai behind him, Thapa is ticking the Indian midfield, defence and attack. The Chennaiyin FC midfielder has had superb outings in the SAFF Cup and can be expected to be the key for India and the trophy.

Ibrahim Hassan Waheed (Maldives)

No Maldivian could guess the influence of this forward prior to the start of the tournament, let alone making him the man to watch. But the way Hassan Waheed played against Nepal, he certainly is the one India needs to be wary off. Running into spaces, playing those balls forward and making inroads into the box, Hassan has done everything in the tournament.

The 22-year-old youngster is smart and has speed off the blocks. He has scored thrice already in four appearances for the national team, and that is no mean feat. Vinit Rai and the centre-backs will need to take extra care of his creative mind and fill the gaps he would look to find.

What To Expect

A tough life for side-backs for both teams, with India creating more noise than during the group stage. Constantine will want his lads to win this one, to ensure the spirits in the team is high before a key tournament. Both teams depend a lot on their wingers for creativity, and that looks the only possibility where Maldives can hit India hard. Subhashish Bose’s positioning will be interesting. Expect Thapa and Bose to lift the Cup, but you can never really be sure in finals.

The match is scheduled to kick-off at IST 6:30 PM on Saturday and will be telecast live on D Sport.

 

Published: Fri Sep 14, 2018 06:13 PM IST

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