Dasarath Stadium, Kathmandu
18.15 IST, 9th September 2013
Defending champions India take on Maldives in the second semi-final of SAFF Cup 2012 in what is a repeat of the semi-final in the 2011 SAFF Cup. India managed to win that match 3-1 but things are distinctly different this time around with India struggling to reach the semi-finals and Maldives qualifying with ease having scored 18 goals in the group stages.
Team News And Tactical Brief
It has been a below-par performance from the 6 time SAFF champions so far and coach Wim Koevermans has a lot of thinking to do before the semi-final. India labored to 1-0 win over Pakistan courtesy an own goal from Pakistani defender and then needed a Sunil Chhetri goal deep into the injury time to equalize against Bangladesh. Despite losing to Nepal in the final match , team India qualified for the semi-finals due to better head-to-head record. The team’s performance and Koevermans’ selections have however raised a lot of questions.
Subrata Paul had a superb start to his SAFF Cup campaign against Pakistan but his form has dipped since and he was guilty of leaving his line which led to the first goal against Nepal. However playing for the nation brings the best out of him and Subrata will have to be in his elements in the match. Despite making a few errors, Arnab Mondal and Gouramangi Singh have looked solid at the back and the duo will face their stiffest test tomorrow in form of Maldives skipper Ali Ashfaq who has already scored 10 goals in the tournament so far. The performance of the duo will be key to India’s fortunes. After scoring a goal against Nepal, Syed Rahim Nabi is expected to start at the left back spot instead of Nallapan Mohanraj who has looked below par through-out the tournament while Nirmal Chettri will line up at the right back spot. Chettri will have to keep a watch on Maldives left-back Mohamed Rasheed who is renowned for making runs down the flanks
Mehtab Hossain has been one of the best and most consistent performers in the group stages and in absence of Sunil, Mehtab will be the key to India’s performance. His battle with Maldives play-maker Mohamed Arif could well decide the course of the game. Lenny Rodrigues is expected to start alongside him and the Goan , who has not been in the best of forms, will have to surely raise his game. Francis Fernandes played against Bangladesh and Pakistan and after missing the match against Nepal is expected to take his place on the right side of the midfield while despite looking off-color Jeje is expected to start on the left flank as he offers an option of moving upfront should Koevermans decide to shift to 4-4-2 formation during the course of the game.
Jewel Raja notched up the assist in the game against Nepal and once again will look to put in an improved performance in the semi-finals. Playing behind the striker, Jewel will be a key player in orchestrating Indian attacks. It remains to be seen to be seen how India cope up with the absence of Sunil Chhetri who has been an inspirational player in the team. Robin Singh is expected to start in his place after he held the ball well after coming on as a substitute against Nepal. Dawson Fernandes’ s involvement in the second half of the game also looks likely.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Subrata Paul; Rahim Nabi, Gouramangi Singh, Arnab Mondal, Nirmal Chettri; Jeje, Mehtab Hossain, Lenny Rodriguez, Francis Fernandes; Jewel Raja; Robin Singh
Maldives, known as Red Snappers, have already been labelled as the team of the tournament after they routed Sri-Lanka 10-0 and Bhutan 8-2 before playing out a 0-0 draw with Afghanistan to finish top of their group. Coach Istvan Urbanyi has already signaled his intent before the match saying that his side is going to exploit India’s weaknesses. The hallmark of the Maldives team has been their ability to easily shift from one formation to another.
32 year old New Radiant keeper Imran Mohamed is likely to guard the goal for the Maldives team with a back four of Akram Ghanee, Shafiu Ahmed, Mohamed Rasheed and Mohamed Shifan expected to start in front of him. Mohamed Rasheed will look to trouble the Indians with his runs down the left flank while the 30 year old Mohamed Shifan is expected to start in the heart of Maldives defense and keep Indian strikers particularly Robin Singh in check. Shaifu Ahmed is expected to accompany Shifan in the heart of defense and Akram is likely to take the right-back spot.
Play-maker Mohamed Arif is likely to lead the Maldives midfield and the 28 midfielder is the main source of creativity in the his team ‘s lineup. Mohamed Umair who scored from a free-kick against Bhutan is another player to watch out for in the Red Snipers midfield. Ahmed Rasheed and Ismail Easa are expected to complete the four-man midfield. Having already scored 10 goals in the tournament, including a double hat-trick, skipper Ali Ashfaq is arguably the most vital cog in the Maldives team. The New Radiant striker has been in stellar form with both his club and country and will be raring to go at a weakened Indian side. Ali Fasir who has also scored three goals in the tournament is expected to start alongside while the likes of Asadhulla Abdulla and Hassan Adhuham may come into action in the second part of the game.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Imran Mohamed; Mohamed Rasheed, Mohamed Shifan, Shaifu Ahmed, Akram Ghanee; Mohamed Umair, Mohamed Arif, Ahmed Rasheed, Ismail Easa; Ali Ashfaq, Ali Fasir
Players To Watch Out For
Mehtab Hossain (India)
The plan for India going into this crucial match will be to dominate the midfield and not give any room for the Maldives to play. The tactical discipline of Indians will be important and this is what makes Mehtab Hossain the player to watch out for. Mehtab has played all the three games completely and his creativity and tackling in the center of the park will be important to India’s fortunes. Renowned for not giving away the ball easily, Mehtab will have to be at his best in this match.
Ali Ashfaq (Maldives)
Nicknamed as Dhagandey or the Man Of Steel, Ali Ashfaq has proved that he is the best striker in the SAFF region at the moment and what has been remarkable is the ease with which he has scored some of his goals. Having seen his side bite dust against India a few times in the past, Ashfaq will be motivated to put in a inspired performance against a weakened India side and settle the score.
India 1-2 Maldives
Maldives have been the team of the tournament so far and with Sunil Chhetri suspended, India will find it tough to score against Maldives. The six time champions are however expected to put in a brave effort but with the kind of form Ali Ashfaq at the moment. TheHardTackle predicts a 2-1 win for the Red Snappers in a closely fought encounter.