Bangladesh won the competition once in 2003, while Pakistan’s best finish was in 1997 when they finished third. Nepal and Bhutan haven’t had good results yet.
The SAFF Cup this year looks set to be much more competitive than before because of the recent evolution of the teams participating in it and in Group A, there are some promising South Asian teams vying for glory. Led by hosts Bangladesh, the group also has the likes of Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan who will all try to oust each other in an attempt to make it through to the semi-finals.
The group will definitely be an open one, with each and every team looking to prove their development and make it further in the tournament. So, let’s take a closer look at the teams.
About The Tournament
The SAFF Cup is regarded among the most prestigious tournaments in South Asian football and after being started by the South Asian Football Federation in 1993, it has been the premier competition for South Asian countries. The biennial event has been taking place for over two decades and is played to promote the development of football across the region.
Hosts Bangladesh won it once in 2003, while Pakistan’s best finish was in 1997 when they finished third. Bhutan and Nepal haven’t had that many memorable outings in the past.
About The Teams
The Bangladesh national football team is ushering in a new era under manager Jamie Day, who seems to have helped them improve since taking over. Bangladesh might be doing well at the youth levels, but need to show improvement under Day at the senior level. The Bengal Tigers were ousted in the group stages last time out in the SAFF Cup, but Day will the fan support play motivation for the players to overturn that and go all the way this time.
Bhutan have been going through a rough patch in recent years, as they had an awful AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign in which they suffered some humiliating losses. But under experienced coach Trevor Morgan, they’ll hope to turn over a new leaf at the SAFF Cup.
The highest ranked team in the group, Nepal are probably among the favorites heading into the SAFF Cup and will be among the main threats to India in the tournament. While Nepal hasn’t won a competitive game in almost two years, they have shown improvement under coach Koji Gyotoku and proved to be a difficult side to break down defensively.
Pakistan are among the weakest teams heading into the tournament, but it’s because of the lack of expectations on them that they can prove to be a dangerous opposition. With many thinking them to be the “whipping boys”, Pakistan can pull an ace out of their hat and stun the teams by proving how much their game has developed.
Jamie Day (Bangladesh)
Day will look to win over the fans during the SAFF Cup
Jamie Day had his work cut out for him when he joined as Bangladesh’s first-team manager in March this year, but having worked with weaker sides in the past, he fit right in with Bangladesh. Day proved his good work when his team came from behind to record a 2-2 draw away to Laos earlier this year and showed how much they had improved in their first international match in 17 months.
He’s setting them up in a 4-4-2 formation but has instilled some discipline and believe into the side, who will look to repay their manager’s trust in them by coming up big in the SAFF Cup.
Trevor Morgan (Bhutan)
Morgan’s Bhutan will aim to play exciting, attacking football
Trevor Morgan might be fondly remembered by Indian football fans for his days managing East Bengal, but he’s now leading a different unit in Bhutan. The SAFF Cup is his first real test as manager of the Dragon Boys, but knowing the up and coming talents in the country, the Englishman can hone their ability really well. One can expect for him to let them play more freely in the SAFF Cup and try out different things to realize what he’s got. But, if things click for him, Bhutan can go a long way in the tournament.
Koji Gyotoku (Nepal)
Gyotoku will aim to get back to winning ways
Koji Gyotoku has had a rather topsy-turvy journey as the manager of Nepal and after being highly successful in his first year with them, his team have regressed. Gyotoku was undefeated in his first year with Nepal and even helped them win the AFC Solidarity Cup in 2016, but has since suffered some crushing defeats in the AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign.
But, he’ll aim to bounce back in the SAFF Cup, where Nepal should play in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation, as Gyotoku loves playing an attacking brand of football and will hope that helps his team get further in the tournament.
Jose Antonio Nogueira (Pakistan)
Nogueira aims to change Pakistan’s style of play.
Jose Antonio Nogueira earned a decent reputation for his work at Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli, whom he helped to win the Kings Cup in 2007. He was recently brought in as the head coach of the Pakistan football team, who are in complete disarray these days and are falling further down the FIFA rankings.
One can expect Pakistan to show signs of fearlessness in their games in the SAFF Cup and having nothing to lose, Nogueira will allow them to express themselves on the field, as they will look to go all out to pull off some surprises.
Goalkeepers: Mahfuz Hasan, Mitul Hossain, Anisur Rahman and Ashraful Islam Rana.
Defenders: Mohammad Zahid, Monjurur Rahman, Saddam Hossain, Yeasin Khan, Uttam Kumar, Bishwanath Ghosh, Topu Barman, Rahmat Miah, Nurul Faisal and Sushanta Tripura.
Midfielders: Pasbon Molla, Mamunul Islam, Faisal Mahmud, Javed Khan, Ali Hossain, Fazley Rabbi, Jamal Bhuiyan, Hemanta Vincent Biswas, Jewel Rana, Mohammad Ibrahim, Mohammad Shadhin, Rahim Uddin, Zahid Hossain, Masuk Miah, Mohammad Abdullah.
Forwards: Toklis Ahmed, Biplu Ahmed, Matin Miah, Abu Sufian Sufil, Jafar Iqbal, Towhidul Alam Sabuj.
Phunstsho Jigme, Jigme Tshltrim, Mipham Jigme Rinchen Khando, Kinley Tenzin, Tenzin Dorji, Choki Wangchuk, Tshering Samdrup, Galey Zangpo, Chimmi Dorji, Dawa Tshering, Tshering Dorji, Phurba Wangchuk, Karma Tshering. Chencho Gyaltsen, Kencho Tobgay, Nima Wangdi, Kuenga Rabgay, Kabiraj Rai, Tsenda Dorji, Tshering Dhenchup, Kinzang Gyaltsen, Nawang Jamphel, Hari Gurung.
Players To Watch
Mahbubur Rahman Sufil (Bangladesh)
Rahman will look to light up the SAFF Cup
Mahbubur Rahman seems to be one of the best young talents to have come up in Bangladesh football for many years and despite his tender age, he’s shown amazing maturity to win at the highest level.
Rahman scored on his Bangladesh debut and also helped his club Arambagh KS win the Independence Cup recently. He will be extremely confident heading into the SAFF Cup and playing in his natural habitat, he’ll look to use his goalscoring prowess and unpredictability to stun his opponents.
Tshering Dorji (Bhutan)
Dorji’s creativity will be pivotal for Bhutan
With the participation of the “Bhutanese Ronaldo” Chencho Gyeltshen still up in the air, Tshering Dorji will aim to prove his talent in the SAFF Cup. Dorji has been a valuable member of the Bhutanese national team for years now and despite his age, he’s already helped them attain some important wins.
He has the knack of scoring some important goals and is a clever midfielder who can fool anyone with his pace and creativity.
Bimal Gharti Magar (Nepal)
Magar can terrorize defenses with his trickery
Bimal Gharti Magar might not have had a memorable stint at Mohun Bagan, but he’s always delivered for his national team and used his experience to his advantage. Having attained the valuable experience of playing in Europe at youth level, he has since used those vital lessons to his advantage and developed into an unpredictable attacker.
Magar has the pace, skill and goalscoring ability which has benefitted his national team in recent years and he’ll be one player everyone will be frantically looking to contain in the SAFF Cup.
Hassan Bashir (Pakistan)
Bashir will look to inspire Pakistan in attack
With Kaleemullah Khan not selected for the tournament, a lot of pressure will be on Hassan Bashir to prove his ability upfront and create goals for Pakistan. Bashir is currently playing in the 2nd division of the Danish league and has a decent goalscoring record in club football,
His return will be valuable for Pakistan. Bashir is a strong forward, who uses his strength and striker’s instinct to score goals and his team will hope he can use his cleverness to shine through at the SAFF Cup.
What To Expect
Bangladesh are definitely among the favorites to get out of Group A and will probably end up topping the group because of their home advantage and recent development. It’ll be a group where Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan all fight for the other spot and while Nepal are the favorites to take second place, Bhutan and Pakistan could come up with some surprises to stake their claim in what is expected to be a group packed with entertaining football.