The Blue Tigers will be aiming to notch a second-straight win in Bangladesh.
A young Indian team will take its second step in the 2018 SAFF Championship on Sunday when they face Maldives. The tropical nation in the Indian Ocean faced Sri Lanka on Friday, and the match ended goalless, with both teams sharing the spoils. India, meanwhile, defeated the southern island 2-0 in the Group B opener on September 5.
In Group A, the results have been pretty mixed, with open games being the order of the day. Nepal is the only team yet to lose a game, whereas Bhutan have conceded six times in two encounters without scoring any. Pakistan too, have looked good and lost to Bangladesh due to a late goal from Topu Barman.
About the teams
The Blue Tigers have shown that if given responsibility, they can come up with the goods. The boys looked hungry going forward and resolute while defending in the last win. Anirudh Thapa, shuffling between the No.8 and No. 10 position according to the need of the hour, looked really good and threaded some smart moves in the opposition half.
Watch: India Vs Sri Lanka highlights
Sarthak Golui and Salam Ranjan Singh’s stake has also been rising for a while now. Both youngsters have played regular club football over the last two seasons and displayed good positioning and coordination with Vishal Kaith, Golui’s teammate at FC Pune City. Germanpreet Singh started alongside Anirudh Thapa in the midfield in the last game, but both Vinit Rai and Isaac Vanmalsawma will be geared up to take the spot in the next game.
The wings, too, could see new occupiers. Nikhil Poojary and Nandha Kumar are strong contenders, but Lallianzuala Chhangte has been a long-term favourite of Stephen Constantine and Ashique Kuruniyan has grabbed eyeballs with some desired performances. Sumeet Passi, meanwhile, can be expected to continue up top.
Maldives controlled 62% possession in their game against Lanka, enjoying a massive 33.9% in the Sri Lanka final third. If India wishes to dominate this game, it needs to play and press the ball higher up the pitch. Both Hamzath Mohammad and Ali Fasir played their hearts out in the game, falling short of the desired goal. Ali Samooh, too, had a good game, making a few key interceptions.
Watch: Maldives Vs Sri Lanka highlights
Hassan Naiz did not have the expected role in the game, and was well marked by Sri Lankan centre-backs. Naiz was replaced by Abdulla Asadhulla, but the No. 9, too, failed to make a mark.
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.
The Blue Tigers are expected to play a 4-2-3-1 formation
Goalkeepers: Vishal Kaith, Kamaljit Singh, Sukhdev Patil.
Faisal, Yoosuf, Samooh, Abdul Ghaneer, Mujuthaaz, Irufaan, Arif, Hamzath, Fasir, Hassan, Asadhulla
The 55-year old gaffer has declared that his team “is not going to start as favourites in any of the matches” in this tournament.
“In this competition, we are not going to start as favourites in any of our matches. We are a young and inexperienced side and we are playing against senior sides. We can say we have a good chance to win this game. But I don’t feel we can be labelled as favourites before the kick-off. I am not a person who loves to focus on history too much. Obviously, it’s nice to look back to find that we have beaten them 13 times. But such facts don’t matter at all. Tomorrow we are playing against a completely different Maldives team and they’re also going to face a different India team whom they played last time. Had we won those 13 matches against the same set of players, that would have given us an edge,” he stated.
Regarding Sarthak Golui and Ashique Kuruniyan being cautioned in India’s opener, he quipped, “Yes, that’s a concern for sure. If they get cautioned another time, it won’t be good news for us. We’ll have to be a bit careful tomorrow.”
Earlier after the Sri Lanka victory, regarding the number of chances missed, Constantine stated, “We need to rectify the mistakes before the next match. We started off with a good win but I’m not happy with the performance. We could have scored quite a few goals more.” He further quipped, “We have to learn how to play more smartly. We can do much better than this. Given the fact that the players are young, you can’t expect the consistency every time.”
The Croatian-born German coach will be aiming to resolve the problems his side faced in their previous fixture – which was not converting their possession into goals.
After the Lankan match, he said, “We had a lot of chances, in the beginning, we attacked right away. The Sri Lankan goalkeeper was very good and made a lot of saves. The game was a very good 0-0. Both teams played a very open game. Both teams wanted to win and had a lot of chances.”
Although his words sounded optimistic, but he himself knew that his team should have done better against a weaker Sri Lanka side. He will be hoping that his team don’t repeat similar mistakes against India.
What to expect
A tough life for side-backs for both teams. Both teams depend a lot on their wingers for creativity, and it was on full display in their respective openers against Sri Lanka, a team that virtually looks out of contention. India will have a slight edge centrally if Anirudh Thapa is on song, with the youngster usually on top of his game behind a double-forward system.
This could well be the match of the winner, and the team that wins this one, will be deemed favourites to lift the trophy.