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SAFF Suzuki Cup

India Vs Pakistan, the fiery encounter that'll decide SAFF Cup finalist

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The Blue Tigers are facing the Pak Shaheen after a span of five years.

An India Vs Pakistan fixture is always mouth-watering and this time there’s no difference. The Blue Tigers will face the Pak Shaheen, as the opponents are widely known, in the semi-final of the SAFF Championship on Wednesday. The young Indian team has kept a clean-sheet in the two matches they have played so far, scoring twice each against Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

On the other hand, Pakistan have had a mixed group stage so far. The team narrowly lost to Bangladesh, won with a late goal against Nepal and destroyed Bhutan easily. Pakistan recently featured at 2018 the Asian Games in Indonesia and displayed some good, attacking football. The team then travelled to Dhaka for the SAFF Cup and has continued the momentum well.

Talking before the game, former QPR, Fulham, Brighton and Norwich City defender Zesh Rahman has already earmarked the match to be special. "It's always special to play India. I believe it's same for the Indian players too when they play against Pakistan,” the central defender stated.

Pakistan captain and explosive midfielder Saddam Hussain has always played well against India and was brilliant in the series in Bengaluru in 2013. The man hit the post twice, as the sides shared the spoils in two games. “We just can’t wait to play against India. We have every ounce of respect for our opponents, but that won’t deter us from playing our natural game. We have shown our worth and I believe it’s going to be a heck of a contest and no one will prefer to give it a miss,” added the captain.

Meanwhile, India head coach Stephen Constantine has played down all the hype. "It’s just another match. We can't let the occasion get over us and hopefully, we will beat them to advance to the final,” added the Englishman.

About The Teams

India

India have brought their U-23 squad to the SAFF Championship this year and the side has shown enough discipline to outplay its first two opponents. Captained by left-footed defender Subhashish Bose and Anirudh Thapa respectively on the two matchdays, the boys have shown enough creativity to create a number of chances. The wingers have been especially crucial to the gameplay, scoring thrice in the four times India have managed to hit the back of the net.



India's probable lineup against Pakistan in the SAFF Cup semi-final

Going into the key tie, Constantine finally knows what he wants from his side. While Bose looked jittery at centre-back, the former Bengaluru FC lad has played that role in the past and can be hoped to do justice to it, if given another opportunity. Thapa got more freedom with Vinit Rai alongside him, with the Delhi Dynamos midfielder casually breaking down the opposition’s play and interchanging passes at will and in space.

Up top, Manvir Singh looked an improvement over Sumeet Passi, the starter in the first game. Manvir played his heart out and his movement for the goal he scored showed the kind of off-the-ball running he’s willing to do behind defenders. That property, if displayed more regularly, could help him become one of the leading young strikers in the country. Nikhil Poojary, too, looked good on the right wing.

Davinder Singh did not have the strongest game and also earned a yellow card. So, Sajid Dhot can be expected to come back into the playing XI.

Pakistan

Pakistan, on the other hand, have been unplayable in parts. The team has stayed together for a long time now and have been comfortable playing with each other. The arrival of coach José Antonio Nogueira has opened new avenues for the side, that is being helped by the Brazilian flair infused by Nogueira.

Muhammad Riaz celebrating after scoring against Bhutan

Alike India, Pakistan’s wingers have also had a strong SAFF tournament so far. Mohammed Riaz and Hassan Bashir have displayed strong footwork on their respective sides and also scored goals in the 3-0 rout of Bhutan. Faheem Ahmed got the third and is expected to lead the line against India. The opposition can also play a double-striker system, something they did against Nepal, with both Ahmed and Mohammed Ali featuring up top.

Pakistan have never won the title, are in good shape now to change that piece of history. India’s lack of experience at the highest level and Pakistan’s fine form will hold them in good stead. Also, players like Hussain and Rahman have lost to India on a couple of occasions in the past and will be looking to win this key game to reach the final.

Coaches Corner

Stephen Constantine- "We are aware of the contest. But, that is nothing different. It’s just another match. We can't let the occasion get over us and hopefully, we will beat them to advance to the final,” Constantine commented. 

"Nepal have played some stupendous football and they have deservingly reached the semis. Hopefully, we get a win against Pakistan and face Nepal in the final,” he maintained.

José Antonio Nogueira- "India’s quality is very good, they’re organised and synchronised. But, we’re prepared and we’ll try to capitalize on any mistake they make," he asserted.

"Undoubtedly, India are the numero uno in region. Coming back from a 3-year long hiatus, we are nowhere close to them. My first target is to close the gap in the next 2-3 years. We’ll then set the target to conquer the region,” Nogueira added

“It will be a great experience for me and my team when we play India in the semis,” Nogueira, who has earlier coached Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and St. Kitts and Nevis, smiles.

"We will gain some invaluable experience from those 90 minutes. India have achieved some major feats to reach the next level. I feel the experience which India gather playing against the opponents like Japan or maybe a South Korea, we'll get against them (India)."


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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.

Head-To-Head

The two teams have met 23 times till date, where the Blue Tigers have won a whooping 14 times compared to three wins for Pakistan. Six matches have resulted in a draw.

In the 23 fixtures, India have scored 34 times compared to Pakistan's 17 goals. The last time these two teams met was in 2013, when an enthusiastic Indian side defeated Pakistan 1-0 in the SAFF Cup.

Probable Lineups

India

Kaith, Lalrinzuala, Bose, Salam Ranjan, Dhot, Vinit, Thapa (C), Poojary, Choudhary, Chhangte, Manvir

Coach: Stephen Constantine

Pakistan

Butt, Umar Hayat, Naveed, Rahman, Mohsin, Rehmat, Mehmood, Saddam ©, Riaz, Ali, Bashir

Coach: José Antonio Nogueira

Players To Watch

Anirudh Thapa (India)- The newly-appointed captain has been a threat to reckon with since the start of India's campaign in the SAFF Cup. One of the best midfielders at the country's disposal, Thapa is widely-regarded for his vision and composure as well as his defensive skills. The youngster won the Indian Super League (ISL) with Chennaiyin FC last season and was a part of India's successful Intercontinental Cup squad in June. 

Hassan Bashir (Pakistan)- Currently the joint-highest scorer in the SAFF Cup 2018, with Topu Barman of Bangladesh and Bimal Magar of Bhutan, all the limelight will be on Bashir when Pakistan face India on Wednesday. The 31-year-old forward has an eye for a goal and possesses deadly dribbling skills, which help him in his cause. Bashir can be Pakistans's ace to finally go on and win the tournament for the first time in their history.  

What To Expect

Wing-play. Both sides have played down the wings in terms of creativity and speed and the full-backs on both sides can finally expect real challenges. Players from both teams will need to keep emotions at bay and midfielders Thapa and Hussain will vie to reign the controls early. The impact of Rai and Farukh Choudhary will be key to India’s chances, while Mehmood and Riaz will hold important roles for Pakistan.

Pakistan could finally expect to break their SAFF Cup drought, but the exuberance of Indian youth can always change that.

The match is scheduled to kick-off at IST 7pm and will be telecast live on D Sport.

Published: Tue Sep 11, 2018 05:27 PM IST

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