Saturday, May 18, 2024

SAFF Championship 2023: India look to build on the momentum against Nepal

Indian men’s national football team will look to maintain their winning run and inch closer to the semi-finals of the SAFF Championship when they face Nepal at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, here on Saturday.

The Blue Tigers thumped arch-rivals Pakistan 4-0 in their first group-stage match on Wednesday, after Kuwait beat Nepal 3-1 in the tournament opener. Igor Stimac’s men have commenced their preparations for the AFC Asian Cup with great energy and they would be aiming to bolster their confidence with another dominant performance against Nepal.

The Gorkhalis, on the other hand, will have their task cut out against the in-form hosts as they look to get their first win in the competition.

India have a strong upper hand over their opponents from the South Asian regions in terms of the head-to-head record. The two sides have faced each other 15 times previously, with the Blue Tigers emerging victorious 10 times, while Nepal has managed to win only once. The remaining four matches have ended in draws.

In their most recent five meetings, the Blue Tigers have secured victories four times, with the other game resulting in a draw. The latest encounter between the two teams occurred in 2021 during the SAFF Championship Final, where India emerged triumphant with a convincing 3-0 scoreline.

In March 2023, the All Nepal Football Association appointed former NorthEast United FC coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese. Nepal’s national team then participated in the Minister’s Three Nations Cup, where they emerged as champions by defeating Laos 2-1 in the final. They had previously defeated Laos 2-0 and drew 1-1 with Bhutan in the group stage. Prior to the SAFF Championship, Nepal also played a friendly game against the Philippines, which resulted in a 1-0 defeat for Nepal.

The Blue Tigers have been in impressive form following their recent triumph in the Hero Intercontinental Cup, and they further strengthened their confidence with a resounding 4-0 victory over rivals Pakistan in the previous game. Stimac’s men have showcased a solid defensive setup along with attacking prowess over the past few months. They have achieved an all-time record by keeping seven consecutive clean sheets, which is a remarkable feat for the team.

Sandesh Jhingan vs Anjan Bista: Jhingan has made a significant contribution to India’s impressive run of seven consecutive clean sheets. The centre-back displayed rock-solid defence against Pakistan, leaving no room for the opposition to penetrate. Now, his next challenge will be to contend with Anjan Bista, a familiar face in Indian football. Bista, a 25-year-old attacker, played for Mumbai-based side Kenkre FC in the Hero I-League 2022-23 season. He found the back of the net for Nepal in their opening fixture, despite a 3-1 loss to Kuwait. With 11 goals in 52 games, he is only three goals away from becoming Nepal’s all-time top international goalscorer. However, it will be an uphill task for him to surpass Jhingan, given the exceptional form the defender is currently in.

Sunil Chhetri vs Ananta Tamang: The Indian skipper achieved his fourth international hat-trick against Pakistan, propelling him to fourth place in the all-time international goalscoring chart. The striker is eager to continue adding to his goal tally against Nepal and edge closer to the remarkable milestone of 100 goals. Chhetri will face Tamang, an experienced player with 47 international caps, who represents Nepal. Tamang, a center-back, has been a significant presence in Nepal’s defence and was also part of East Bengal FC’s squad in the latter stages of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season.

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