Trivandrum International Stadium, Thiruvananthapuram
31st December 2015
The 2015 edition of the SAFF Championships have reached its semi-final stage and the home fans would say that India have done pretty well to avoid defending champions Afghanistan at this stage, which leaves everyone with the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 final. For Maldives however, it is more of a case of trying to figure out how to jump back from the 4-1 loss at the hands of Afghanistan in their final Group B game, and square up against India, one of the strongest teams in the tournament.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The Indians have been good, so far in the tournament, dispatching sides like Sri Lanka and Nepal with relative ease, but their real test begins from the semi final stage of the tournament, as they take on the Maldives. The biggest news for India manager Stephen Constantine this week is that striker Robin Singh has been ruled out of the rest of the SAFF Cup. The tall forward has been a crucial part of the national team’s setup for quite some time now, but the Blue Tigers would have to do without him for the rest of the tournament.
However, there is some exciting news for the Indian fans, as youngster Lallianzuala Chhangte has announced his arrival on the international stage with a magnificent brace against Nepal in the previous match. He even became the youngest player (18) to score for the Indian national team, a record that was previously held by Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia. Subrata Paul got a start in the last match because India just needed a draw to qualify, but FC Stabaek goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is expected to be reinstated between the posts, as we move into the knockout phase of the tournament.
Even Arnab Mondal is expected to come back into the squad, replacing Narayan Das. The burly center-back had a good outing with Atletico de Kolkata, as he helped them reach the semi finals of the Indian Super League, which ended earlier this month. Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rowlin Borges are set to take their position in the heart of the midfield as usual. The latter had a great match against Nepal, scoring the 26th minute equalizer, and then also providing Lallianzuala with the perfect cross to score India’s fourth goal of the match.
Pradhan is coming on the back of an ISL campaign full of ups and downs in personal form, and seems to have carried that trend forward with the national team, finally being substituted at half time by coach Constantine. Thus, it is very likely that Constantine would give Lallianzuala a start, after the Liverpool International Academy player impressed in the Nepal match. Up front the duo of captain Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua will take charge of scoring the goals.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Gurpreet; Khongjee, Arnab, Fernandes, Kotal; Jairu, Lyngdoh, Borges, Lallianzuala; Chhetri, Jeje.
The Maldives defence, has not been the Maldives’ strongest suit, as they have conceded an average of two goals in their three group stage matches. That statistic could be viewed as a bit skewed, as four of the six goals that they have shipped, were in the Afghanistan match, when nothing was going in their favour. But, they have also been on brilliant form in the tournament so far, and have done well to defeat the likes of Bangladesh and Bhutan, in order to reach the semi finals of the SAFF Championship. In fact, they have been the second highest scorers so far in the tournament, with seven goals from three matches.
This attacking threat is lead by Ali Ashfaq, who is regarded as one of the best attacking players in South Asia. He has scored two goals in the SAFF Championship, and is the second highest scorer in the tournament so far. His presence in and around the box would be a great threat to the home side’s goal, and the Maldives would be looking to feed the ball to the Malaysia-based striker, to score the goal.
With the likes of Imaaz Ahmed and Assadhulla Abdulla present in the Maldives team, they possess a side that can score quite freely, if the given the adequate amount of space. Hamzath Mohamed and Mohamed Arif would be the ones trying to feed the strikers and the wingers through on goal, but they would also need a lot of tracking back from Imaaz and Assadhulla, to check the darting runs of the Indian wingers. The experienced Imran Mohamed is set to take his usual position under the woodwork against India, and his Maldivian teammates would be hoping that the 35-year-old keeps the likes of Chhetri, Jeje and Lallanzuala out of their goal, in order to give them a better chance of progression.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Imran; Shaifu, Samdhooh, Amdaan, Ahmed; Assadhulla, Arif, Hamzath, Imaaz; Ashfaq, Ashadh.
India 3-2 Maldives (A.E.T)
India are the lower ranked side, but they start as favourites as they are playing at home which would give them a lot of impetus to perform well. While Maldives does look like they have a goal or two in them, the Indian challenge could turn out to be a bit too steep in the end.