Dashrath Stadium, Kathmandu
Kick off 6:15 IST
After months of build up, the date has finally arrived. India kicks off their tenth South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF) in pursuit of their seventh title as they lock horns against arch rivals Pakistan at the Dasrath Stadium in Kathmandu today. Both the teams are raring to have a go at each other and clinch the opening three points. Here is the quick preview of both the teams with their tactical strategies.
Post the recent loss to Tajikistan on FIFA day, national Coach Wim Koevermans has had his share of critics, questioning a lot of aspects of his plans for the Indian Team. As expected, India starts as favourites to bag another regional championship, but this time around, there are a few changes such as the Blue Tigers are no longer the highest ranked team in the tournament.
The Dutch coach has already been under fair amount of pressure when the talk orbits around the team selection on match days. Ergo, a lot of Indian football faithful will be eagerly awaiting the news on team sheet today as we inch closer to the kick off in Kathmandu. Subrata Pal is expected to guard the goal with Gouramangi and Arnab slotting in as centre backs. We can expect a cautious and nervy start to the game but the width and overlapping on the flanks would be provided by Nirmal Chettri and the ever versatile Syed Nabi. Lenny will sit in front of back four holding and spreading the ball on the flanks. Mehtab “double Cylinder” Hussain will be the man shouldering the responsibility of driving and orchestrating the moves from the middle. It will be very interesting to notice who else gets a nod in the midfield. The most likely combination on the flanks could be of Francis Fernandes and Alwyn George., but the experience of Jewel Raja could also be a deciding factor in his name popping in the starting eleven today.
The striking department will be lead by Sunil Chettri who is just three goals away from being the highest goal scorer for India alongside Jeje Lalpekhlua, who flaunts a very impressive record against Pakistan. Wim is expected to deploy a natural 4-4-2 formation, but this is subject to change depending upon the circumstances.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Karanjit Singh; Rahim Nabi, Gouramangi Singh, Arnab Mondal, Denzil Franco; Alwyn George, Mehtab Hussain, Lenny Rodriguez, Francis Fernandes; Jeje Lalpekhlua Sunil Chhetri
The Green Shirts sacked their Serbian coach Milosavljevic after their loss to Afghanistan in a friendly match leading up to SAFF Cup. Shahzad Anwar took over the helm at and was appointed by PFF as the head coach alongside Md. Shamlan, who took over the job of Technical Director. Ranked 168 in the world, Pakistan are one side not to be taken lightly in group A. Pakistan squad boasts five players who ply their trade in Europe and have certainly added teeth to all the departments.
Coach Anwar is very optimistic about his sides’ chances of lifting their maiden SAFF Cup. In order to achieve that his team needs to get off a comfortable start. The tall Yousuf Butt is expected to start under the bar for the Green Shirts with Zesh and Samar deployed as centre back pair. WAPDA’s Md. Ahmed would be seen as the left back with KRL’s right back Ahsanullah slotted at the right back position. Marshalled by former Fulham star Zesh Rahman, the back four hold the key for Pakistan’s performance today.
Midfield is expected to comprise of Zia-Us-Salam and Yasir Afridi on the flanks with Saddam Hussain and Md. Adil slotted in the middle. Upfront Kaleemullah would be sure shot starter after his excellent record in the AFC President Cup. Now it is up to Anwar whom does he start alongside Kaleemullah- either Muslim FC’s Saeed Ahmad or PAF’s Muhammad Mujahid.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Yousuf Butt; Muhammad Ahmed, Zesh Rahman, Samar, Ahsanullah; Yasir Afridi, Md. Adil, Saddam Hussain, Zia-Us-Salam; Muhammad Mujahid, Kaleemullah
Players to Watch Out For
Sunil Chettri– After steering Churchill Brothers to their second I-League title, Sunil Chettri has been a bit off color lately and the Indian football fans expect him to burst into action in this edition of SAFF Cup. With the whole nation expecting him to break Bhiachung’s all time highest goal scorer record in Nepal, Sunil Chettri is the man to watch out and mark for the Pakistani counterparts.
Yousuf Butt: Standing well over 6 feet, the custodian will be very influential in how Pakistan fares against India. Plying his trade in Denmark for Glostrup FK, Yousuf serves his international experience in the field which could be pivotal against a good attack such as India.
After registering similar losses leading up to the SAFF Cup, both the teams would be looking to kick start their tournament with a triumph. With both coaches under pressure, the match result could very well revolve around who wins the midfield battle and which team takes their chances as they come. With Pakistan buoyed by presence of some stars which returned from European leagues, the match could very well tilt in their favor. On the flip-side, Indians have a squad in which almost all the players have won the SAFF Cup and been in such situations. TheHardTackle predicts a scored draw.