With the Blue Tigers effectively taking their U-23 stars for this title defence the tournament provides an opportunity for the youngsters to shine.
The South Asian Football Federation Championship, or the SAFF Suzuki Cup, as it is known, returns for its 12th edition and will be played from September 4-15 in Bangladesh at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka. With all seven nations participating, India will be geared up to prove their dominance in the region yet again, while also keeping in mind the preparations for the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
India play their first game against Sri Lanka on 5th September, starting at 6:30 PM. Stephen Constantine, the Blue Tigers’ head coach, has chosen a young U-23 squad in a move that will help the youngsters in the team to shoulder more responsibility as they regularly become a part of the senior side. The manager has also selected a handful of U-19 lads, helping them gain much-needed exposure at the highest level.
About the Teams
Having won the Championship seven times already, Indain gaffer Constantine believes that this experience can help his young lads mature and will inbibe leadership in senior side regulars like Anirudh Thapa, Jerry Lalrinzuala and others.
In goal, India can expect Vishal Kaith, the FC Pune City and former Shillong Lajong custodian, to start. Kaith has been under Constantine’s wings for some time now and enjoys his confidence. The backline is expected to feature Salam Ranjan Singh and Sarthak Golui as centre-backs, with Subhashish Bose throwing around his weight against Golui. It’s a toss-up between him and Jerry Lalrinzuala for the left-back slot, but Bose looks likely to play in one or the other role, after some delightful recent performances for the Blue Tigers as well as the fact that he was selected as the skipper of the side.
Down the right, Davinder Singh, Constantine’s selection from the University Programme, will get the nod
The central midfield is expected to be given to Anirudh Thapa. Vinit Rai and Germanpreet Singh can all be expected to start, given the kind of positioning Constantine expects from his youngsters. Vignesh D could also come into the reckoning, if the second midfielder’s role is to attack and help in the opposition half.
If Thapa is the one pushed forward, Vinit Rai can be a happy receiver of the defensive midfielder’s role. On the wings, Nikhil Poojary is set to feature down the right side. Down the left, the duo Lallianzuala Chhangte and Ashique Kuruniyan will fight it out, but Khel Now understands that the past performances of Chhangte will help him start.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have won the tournament just once, in 1995. The team reached the semi-finals in 2009 and 2015, proving their mettle in the region. Mentored by the then coach Dudley Lincoln Steinwall, the team was known to be tactically sound and go with a ‘defense-first’ strategy. It will be interesting to see how a young Indian squad breaks down the rigidity of the Sujan Perera-led team.
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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.
India likely to play 4-4-2 formation
The list of 20 players for the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 stays as follows:
Goalkeepers: Vishal Kaith, Kamaljit Singh, Sukhdev Patil.
Defenders: Davinder Singh, Salam Ranjan Singh, Sarthak Golui, Subhasish Bose, Mohd. Sajid Dhot, Jerry Lalrinzuala.
Midfielders: Nikhil Poojary, Vinit Rai, Germanpreet Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Ashique Kuruniyan, Vignesh D.
Forwards: Sumit Passi, Hitesh Sharma, Manvir Singh, Farukh Choudhary.
Perera, Madhusan, Warakagoda, Fernando, Puslas, Ishan, Sajith, Rahuman, Rifnas, Zarwan and Fazal
Coach Section: Stephen Constantine.
“We’re coming from a very effective camp in Australia. As we have spoken before we had three very different sorts of game and our boys have worked very hard to make a point there,” Head Coach Stephen Constantine stated. “Facing some of the good sides in this tournament would be a real challenge for us and this is the best scenario to test ourselves,” said Stephen Constantine.
“Apart from Sunil (Chhetri), Jeje (Lalpekhlua) and Balwant (Singh), there are not many out-and-out strikers in India. Then comes Farukh, Manvir, Passi who have minimal international experiences so far. We need more Indian strikers and these boys have shown their potential. Regarding Passi, he’ll have as much chance as anyone else to get into the AFC Asian Cup squad,” he added.
“Obviously these boys have set their target to represent the Senior Team in future. But if we don’t provide them with opportunities, how would we be able to know about their capabilities? We have a set of confident players for the Asian Cup but we must continue developing more players for the coming days. That’s the primary challenge for these set of boys.”Constantine informed.
Coach Section: Nizam Packeer Ali
“There are no favourites once the match kicks-off and the better team will win eventually. It’s very crucial to start the campaign with a positive result and we’re up for it,” he added. “It’s better to face India early in such a tournament rather facing them in the knock-out stage.I am new to the team and I’m trying to get along with a new set of players. We are following the Sri Lanka Football Vision 2030 plan and I’m happy with the progress so far,” Nizam Packeer Ali said
What to Expect
Clearly, a battle of youthful exuberance and excitement against the experience of Sri Lankan gameplay is on the cards. The Island nation plays with a slow build-up and its wingers are tasked upon with most of the creative responsibilities. Thus, the workload on the Indian full-backs could be expectedly more.
It is also difficult to breach the goal of captain Sujan Perera and the Indian forwards will need to be at their clinical best to ensure they score full marks in every opportunity they get.