Wednesday, July 24, 2024

SAFF Championship: Holders India to open campaign with Pakistan clash

Just three days after winning the Intercontinental Cup, the Indian senior men’s team will begin its campaign in the SAFF Championship 2023 against Pakistan in Group A at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Wednesday.

India are a dominant force in the SAFF Championship and the most successful team while Pakistan’s best has been a third-place finish in 1997 and an appearance in the semifinals twice.

Despite this huge gap in their record in the competition, a sell-out crowd is expected to witness the battle between the arch-rivals.

The other two teams from Group A, Nepal and Kuwait will clash in the opening match of the tournament earlier on Wednesday. Group B, consisting of Lebanon, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan, is set to begin on Thursday.

Record eight-time champions India are out to defend the title they won in the Maldives in 2021 after beating Nepal 3-0 in the final. The SAFF Championship is being held in India for the fourth time, and they have won the trophy on each of the last three occasions as hosts (1999, 2011 and 2015).

With the inclusion of guest teams, Kuwait and Lebanon, the SAFF Championship is set to feature eight teams for the first time since 2013.

The Blue Tigers head coach Igor Stimac extended his warm welcome to both West Asian guests at the pre-tournament press conference and listed them among teams to watch out for.

“I hope Kuwait and Lebanon feel welcome in every sense here in this beautiful city of Bengaluru. This SAFF Championship is going to be very competitive. Our group is special (Pakistan, Nepal and Kuwait), and every game will be different. The crowd will enjoy good football, and let’s hope for plenty of goals,” said Stimac.

India bagged a convincing 2-0 win over Lebanon in the Intercontinental Cup Final on Sunday evening. Stimac stated that although his side is content with how they’ve done, there’s no time to dwell on that result or even overvalue the success in Bhubaneswar.

“The mood in the camp is brilliant, obviously, after winning the Intercontinental Cup. We enjoyed each and every second in Odisha and are happy with our performance. But the second step, which is the difficult one, is to repeat it from game to game. Let’s not be misled by the great performance against Lebanon, as every day is a new challenge. Keeping consistency is very important for us,” said the Croatian.

Moving from the heat and humidity of Bhubaneswar to the rain and coolness of Bengaluru is a welcome change for Stimac.

“It’s going to be different here – new tournament, new approach, new teams, new conditions. It’s beautiful weather to play football,” he smiled. “Obviously, we’ll approach each game separately. We’re well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, so we’ll work on it,” he added.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular