Afghan challenge for Indians

Afghan challenge for Indians

Having notched up a morale-boosting semifinal victory against Maldives, defending champions India will try to maintain their supremacy in the SAFF Football Championship when they take on a tough Afghanistan in the summit clash here on Wednesday.

India will take a lot out of their win against Maldives in the semifinal, where there strategy worked out wonderfully. With Gourmangi Singh in splendid form at the heart of defence and young Arnab Mondal deriving a lot of confidence from that winning goal, India will go into the match with a positive frame of mind. 

On paper, Afghans are a superior side with a FIFA ranking of 139 to India’s 145 as well as seven of their first XI footballers plying their trade in the lower tier leagues of the United States and Germany.

Medio Mustafa Azadzoy and defender Mustafa Hadid play in German league while forward Mohammed Yusuf has played in the US.

In the last edition, India beat Afghanistan 4-0 in the final in New Delhi. “We definitely want to take revenge on this India team as we felt that (we) were hard done by the referee (Singaporean Sukhbir Singh) during the last edition. We are a far superior side than India, technically and physically,” Afghanistan’s assistant coach Ali Jawad Attaii declared through his interpreter – team captain Fakhruddin Amiri, who incidentally plays for I-League side Mumbai FC.

The return of captain Sunil Chhetri, who is now a couple of goals shy of being India’s highest scorer will be a shot in the arm for the Dutch coach, who has preferred playing with a single striker employing a 4-5-1 formation rather than the tried and tested 4-4-2. Robin Singh, whose body advantage did work in favour of Indian team in the semis, is expected to return to the dug-out.

While Izumi Arata, who was impressive during his 75-minute stay on the pitch against Maldives, looks a doubtful starter with a back injury, Jewel Raja Sheikh is expected to fill in that attacking hole.

Jeje Lalpeklhua will be starting on the left flank, with Francisco Fernandes manning the right wing. 

Meanwhile, it was decided in the executive committee meeting of SAFF that India will host the 2015 edition.

The meeting did not finalise the host city for the tournament but said it will be held in either New Delhi or Kerala.

The South Asian football body also announced a new tournament -- SAFF Club Cup Championship that is expected to begin next year.

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