Indian men’s football team will look to avoid the embarrassment of exiting the SAFF Championship, a tournament that they have won a record seven times, at the league phase when they face table-toppers Nepal in Male, Maldives.
Igor Stimac’s men are yet to log full points from a game in this edition of the tournament, having drawn both their matches against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
India’s performances in those two games came under heavy criticism as the lacklustre Blue Tigers had no positives to take from those matches.
The Croatian is feeling the pressure ahead of the game against Nepal as he has overseen just three wins in 19 matches in his spell as the head coach of India.
But Stimac as always has remained upbeat but warned his players that they have no margin for error.
“Nothing much has changed,” head coach Stimac said in the official pre-match press conference.
“We are here, and we are still alive in the championship. We are still here to win the tournament,” he added.
Interestingly, the two teams had played two back-to-back international friendlies in Kathmandu in the first week of September where India had won the second match 2-1, after having drawn the first.
“We know them very well and have played twice against them. It’s an open game and if we play well, and do it right on the pitch, I am sure that we can win the game. There is no other option for us than to go out there and win it,” Stimac stated.
Nepal are leading the points table at the moment with six points having won both their matches against Maldives and Sri Lanka.
“They may have a different approach. They may calculate while playing against us. But we are not worried about them. We will go out to do our job from the first minute itself,” the coach added.
The Blue Tigers had their practice session on Saturday and the news from the camp is that there are no injury concerns with all 23 players available for selection.
Midfielder Brandon Fernandes insisted that the team has “everything to play for.”
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Brandon quipped: “We have had two disappointing results so far. Understandably, the mood was dull in the camp. But tomorrow we have everything to fight for. We are positive, and have prepared well for this game. Everyone is focussed on winning the match.”
Stimac mentioned about the lack of discipline on the pitch.
“We haven’t been disciplined enough on the pitch. For all those simple mistakes, we are currently on two points whereas we should have been on six points now,” he opined.
“We know it will not be easy against Nepal. But we could win against them in Kathmandu, we can do it here too. But I reiterate that for that to happen we need to be committed and disciplined.”
Brandon, however, dismissed apprehensions that the Blue Tigers are thinking a bit too much about their opponents.
“We are not thinking much about Nepal. Rather, we have been concentrating on what we need to do once it kicks off. Nepal are a good team and are in a good position at the moment,” he added.
In 21 matches against Nepal, India have lost just twice to their neighbours but the contest has been a bit more competitive in recent times. In the last ten encounters between the two team, India have won six times, there have been three draws and a Nepali victory.
However, current form favours Nepal as India have been at their very worst in recent matches and will have to lift their game if they are to continue their dominance against Nepal.
Failing to win the SAFF Championship would be seen as a major failure for Indian football and it would be the worst way to prepare for the all-important AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
(With PTI inputs)
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