India lifted yet another SAFF Cup title after thrashing Afghanistan by 4-0 margin in the final played in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. SAFF Cup 2011 had a number of dramatic moments and threw up a totally unexpected finalist in Afghanistan. Here’s a recap of the memorable moment from the recently concluded edition of this prestigious tournament.


India overcome slow start to lift the Cup
-Ai??

India made a slow start to the SAFF Cup campaign by playing a less than impressive 1-1 draw with Afghanistan. However, the team grew strength to strength as the tournament progressed and dished out their best performances in the semi-final and final.

A number of Indian players did well in SAFF Cup with Syed Rahim Nabi, Sunil Chhetri, Clifford Miranda and Karanjit Singh being particularly outstanding. Rahim Nabi was India’s most consistent player in the tournament. He assisted goals, scored himself and also did a commendable job in the defence. Miranda had a shaky start to the tournament but came to his true self, dishing out a brilliant performance against Bhutan. Karanjit Singh showed signs that he could effortlessly fill the gigantic boots left by the injured Subrata Pal. If not for Karanjit’s numerous brilliant saves, India could have easily made a losing start to the SAFF campaign. Last but not the least, Sunil Chhetri – who put on his scoring boots when his country needed him the most. His combination with Jeje and Miranda was lethal and he continuously created problems for opponent defenders with his movement. In the post-Baichung era, Sunil Chhetri is an irreplaceable player in the starting XI.

Among the young guns, Jeje’s performace blew hot and cold. The striker seemed fatigued at times. Jeje has been playing relentlessly for his club and for India in different age levels. He might be suffering from both mental and physical fatigue. The youngster deserves some rest and Savio Medeira will be better served to try out the likes of Baljit Sahni and Sampath Kuttymani in upcoming friendly matches. Jewel Raja was very impressive whenever he came out as a substitute and Sushil Singh had an impactful cameo against Sri Lanka and scored a well taken goal in the final also.

This tournament also showed that it might be time for some of India’s old guard to hang up the boots. Captain Climax Lawrence flattered to deceive in central midfield and was often a liability with his miss passes. Steven Dias failed to show his domestic form in the SAFF Cup and was often found lacking speed on the flanks. Anthony Perreira has not managed to show his early 2010 form since coming back from injury and India’s right wing often seemed weaker than the left side. Samir Naik also had a forgettable outing – however his backup Nirmal Chhetri played wonderfully. Mahesh Gawli’s error led India to let in an early goal against Afghanistan but the Dempo defender otherwise dished out a solid show there after.


Afghanistan, a bright future ahead
-Ai??

Two years ago, Afghanistan lost all games and finished rock bottom in their group. When the SAFF Cup started, very few would have bet on the Afghans or “The Lions of Khorasan” as they are nicknamed, to reach the final. And yet they did, ignoring losses suffered in their war torn homeland and playing some enterprising football on their way to the maiden finalAi??appearance.

Balal Arezou : Afghan goal machine


The Afghan team contained a number of players based in Europe with Balal Arezou making a large impact. Balal opened Afghanistan’s tournament with an early goal against India before going on to score a hattrick against Bhutan and the winner against Nepal in the semi-final. The Asker FC striker was undoubtedly one of the best players of SAFF Cup 2011. He was ably assisted by Sanjar Ahmadi up-front with Fakruddin dazzling along the flanks with his electric pace.

Goal keeper Hameedullah Yousufzari was in brilliant form throughout the tournament and made a number of crucial saves against India and Nepal. Djelaludin Sharityar was perhaps the best defender of this year’s SAFF Cup – he effectively shut down Sunil Chhetri in the opening match and showcased a superlative performance against the pacy Nepali attackers in semi-final.

The performance in 2011 SAFF Cup will certainly boost the confidence of the Afghan football team. If they continue in the right direction, then Afghanistan can become a regional power in the coming years. They did put up a good fight in the final before finally succumbing to to the home team in second half.


Maldives reach yet another Semi-Final; Nepal show promise
-Ai??

Along with the finalists, Maldives and Nepal also reached the last four. It was not a big surprise to see the Red Snappers reach the semi-final as they are one of the most consistent teams in the SAFF Cup. The fitness of star striker Ali Ashfaq became a deciding factor for the islanders in the end. He was unfit against India but still took to the field, only to spend the match hobbling around the park. Ahmed Thoriq also deserves special mention as the strikerai??i??s two early goals ensured Maldives got an important victory against Bangladesh.


Nepal also showed a lot of promise in this yearai??i??s SAFF Cup ai??i?? reaching their first semi-final since 1999. The hallmark of Nepalai??i??s play was the brilliant fitness and pace with which their attackers and midfielders operated. They fought the Afghans tooth and nail in the semi-final before succumbing to a goal deep into extra-time. The Nepali fans will be encouraged by the improvement the team has made under Graham Roberts.


Pakistan and Bangladesh need to improve
-Ai??

Pakistan failed to cross the first hurdle but their performance showed an upward curve. Serbian ZaviA?a MilosavljeviAi?? has imbibed a short passing game in the team and has also strengthened the defence. Pakistan conceded just one goal in three group games but lack of threat upfront meant that they failed to win any of their matches and finished the tournament with three draws.

Between 1999 and 2003 Bangladesh reached the SAFF Cup final for three consecutive times and it seemed they would become a serious threat to Indiaai??i??s domination. Sadly, mismanagement has slowed down the growth of Bangla football and the current team was a mere shadow of their past. The 2003 winners finished in bottom place in Group B after losing two of their three outings. With teams like Nepal and Afghanistan emerging in the region, Bangladesh needs to pull their socks up to return to their glory days of last decade.


Bhutan and Sri Lanka ai??i?? making up the numbers
-Ai??

Bhutan and Sri Lanka were never expected to cause any upsets in the SAFF Cup and they stayed true to their reputation. Despite winning a SAFF title in 1995, the Sri Lankans have never threatened to become a heavyweight in South Asia. They did get a 3-1 victory over Bhutan but lost other two matches. Despite letting in three goals, ai???keeper Sujan Perreraai??i??s performance against India deserves a special mention. Nipuna Bandara and Mohamad Zain scored two goals each but made crucial errors against India. Bhutan failed to replicate their 2008 performance as they finished with the wooden spoon. The Bhutanese lost all their matches and conceded a miserable 15 goals ai??i?? their 8-1 loss to the Afghans was particularly embarrassing.


Goal of the Tournament

Sagar Thapa (Nepal v Bangladesh)
-Ai??

There have been a number of well taken goals in this yearai??i??s SAFF Cup but Thapaai??i??s goal was a world class strike. It was also an important goal as his late, late effort saw Nepal grab three invaluable points against Bangladesh.

Sunil Chhetri and Nabi : two of India's best players


Player of the Tournament

Rahim Nabi (India)
-Ai??

Sunil Chhetri might have walked off with the highest number of man of the match awards but Syed Rahim Nabi was the true beacon of consistency for India. When rest of the team struggled in the first match, it was Nabi who provided a much needed thrust upfront. He was heavily involved in Indiaai??i??s goals against Bhutan and Sri Lanka and did a stellar defensive job against Maldives. Often dubbed as Mr. Versatile, Nabiai??i??s ability to play in multiple positions makes him an indispensible player for the current team. Having just turned 27, the player who has played for each of the three Kolkata giants may have the best years ahead of him.


Match of the Tournament

Nepal 0-1 Afghanistan (Semi-Final)
-Ai??

Neither team had reached a SAFF Cup final, so the effort they put to create history made this match an entertaining encounter. Nepal and Afghanistan matched each other blow by blow, attacking and counter-attacking. Nepal was the more dominant team in first 50 minutes and created several chances ai??i?? only to see the strikers waste them. As the match wore on the Nepalese gradually got fatigued after playing at a high tempo. Afghanistan clawed back into the reckoning during this period before snatching the game thanks to a 101st minute goal from Balal.


Team of the Tournament
-Ai??

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4 Responses to “SAFF Cup 2011: Tournament Review – Rampant India Capture Sixth Title”

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  1. Jose says:

    Strange, no Mahesh Gawli. I thought he had a stellar tourney.

  2. rahul says:

    @somnath: I guess its time for Climax,Dias and Naik to retire with the likes of Dika,Jewel,Raju,Francis waiting in the wings.What do you make of Rochus Lamhare.He has played all the matches and looked good.Do you see him being a regular player in future along with Mehtab.The better Indian Eleven could be Karanjit/Subrata;Nabi,Gourmangi,Raju,Nirmal/Denzil Franco;Dika,Lamhare/Jewel,Mehtab,Clifford;Jeje,Sunil
    What do you reckon??

  3. Somnath Sengupta says:

    @rahul

    That is a good team…hopefully this will be the starting XI in coming matches.