Trivandrum International Stadium, Thiruvananthapuram
3rd January, 2016
Like the 2011 and the 2013 editions of the SAFF Cup, hosts are up against defending champions Afghanistan in the final of the 2015 SAFF Suzuki Cup. Both teams are unbeaten in the tournament and the final promises to be an exiting affair. While India edged Maldives 3-2 in the semifinals, Afghanistan hammered Sri-Lanka 5-0. Afghanistan have been the best team in the tournament and will be looking to win their last SAFF Cup while hosts India will be banking on the crowd support to help them reclaim the SAFF trophy.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The Blue Tigers under the tutelage of Stephen Constantine has now won four matches in a row starting from the win over Guam in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and would be looking to extend that to five with a win over Afghanistan in the finals. The Blue Tigers have come a long way from the goalless first half display against Sri Lanka and have improved with each match but the match against Afghanistan would be a stern test for the Blue Tigers.
Similar to what we saw in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Constantine is expected to adopt a safety first approach in this match. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after some good showing in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers was not his usual self in the semifinals against Maldives and should have done better with the second goal India conceded. The Stabek FC custodian will however retain his place in the team and will look to be at the top of his game. It is however the defense that would be giving Constantine sleepless nights. Arnab Mondal and Pritam Kotal looked out of sorts in the semifinals against Maldives and against a team that has scored 16 goals in four matches, both will need to be at their best. Augustine Fernandes will start alongside Mondal in the heart of Indian defense and the duo will be entrusted with the task of keeping Khaibar Amani, the tournament’s top goalscorer under check. Narayan Das completes the possible four man backline for the hosts.
The Indian midfield will have to play a crucial role in this match and Constantine is expected to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation to deny space to the Afghans. Pronay Halder is expected to form the double pivot with Rowllin Borges. Borges in particular has won a lot of accolades with his performances in the heart of the midfield and has been hailed as the find of the tournament by the fans. The right side of midfield has been a problem for Constantine as he has struggled to find a permanent player for the position in this tournament. Sanju Pradhan has dropped out of reckoning after listless displays in the first two matches while the highly promising Lallianzuala Chhangte has only made only substitute appearances so far. Holicharan Narzary put in a decent performance in the match against Maldives and notched up two assists. He is expected to start on the right flank with Bengaluru FC midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh in the middle as the play-maker. Constantine has used Sunil Chhetri in the midfield while playing against higher ranked team in order to leverage his work-rate and his skill and this match against Afghanistan should be no different. The Indian skipper is expected to start on the left side of the midfield and the nation will be hoping from another inspired performance from him.
Robin Singh’ s injury has come at a wrong time for the Blue Tigers and the lanky striker’ s physicality will be missed upfront in this crucial match. In his absence the burden of scoring will rest on Jeje’ s shoulders who comes into the match having scored a brace against Maldvies in the semifinals.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Narayan Das, Augustine Fernandes, Arnab Mondal, Pritam Kotal; Pronay Halder, Rowllin Borges; Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Holicharan Narzary; Jeje Lalpekhlua
Ranked 150th in the world, the Lions of Khorasan have undoubtedly been the best team of the tournament and have proved that they are a cut above all other teams in the region. Under the tutelage of Peter Segrt, who was linked to the Germany U-21 job, Afghanistan have scored 16 goals in four matches and have conceded just one. This is the last SAFF Cup for the team as they have decided to compete in the newly formed Central Asian Football Association (CAFA) and they would be looking to sign off with the trophy.
15 of the 20 Afghan players play in the foreign leagues which does give them an edge over their rivals India. Ovays Azizi who plays for IF Skjold BirkerA?d in Denmark has been the first choice custodian for the team in this tournament and is likely to start in the final as well. Vice captain Hassan Amin who plays for FC SaarbrA?cken in Germany is likely to start on the left side of the defense while the opposite side will be occupied by Mustafa Hadid. Hadid is the most capped player in the current Afghan team and is known for his overlapping runs and crosses. The heart of the defense will feature Masih Saighani and Sayed Mohammad Hashemi and the duo will be tasked with the job of keeping the Indian attackers under check. 21 year old Hashemi is one of the five players plying their trade in Afghanistan and scored his team’ s opening goal against Sri Lanka in the semifinals. Masih Saighani also has two goals to his name in the tournament.
Peter Segrt is expected to lineup in an attacking 4-3-3 formation as has been the case so far in the tournament. 24 year old Kanischka Taher who scored the second goal against Sri Lanka is the defensive midfielder in the team. With three goals so far in the tournament, captain Faysal Shayesteh is a vital cog in the team’ s midfield. Faysal who plays for Songkhla United in Thailand scored a brilliant goal against Sri Lanka in the semifinals. Another Germany based player, Abassin Alikhil completes the likely three man midfield for Afghanistan.
The Afghan attack in the tournament has been led by Khaibar Amani who happens to be the top scorer in the tournament so far with four goals to his name. The 28 year old was on the score-sheet against Sri Lanka in the semifinals and will be looking to end the tournament with a goal in the finals as well. 19 year old Omid Popalzay who plays in the second division of the Dutch League is another player who has caught the eye in this tournament. Popalzay scored a wonderful goal from the free kick against Maldives and has troubled the opposition defenders with his pace and skills down the right flank. Norlla Amiri who plies his trade for second division Swedish club Trelleborgs FF completes the three man forward line for Peter Segrt’ side. The Afghan attackers have been in menacing form in this tournament and will be looking to continue their attacking run against a vulnerable Indian defense.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Ovays Azizi; Hassan Amin, Sayed Mohammad Hashemi Masih Saighani, Mustafa Hadid; Abassin Alikhil, Kanischka Taher, Faysal Shayesteh; Norlla Amiri, Khaibar Amani, Omid Popalzay.
India 1-2 Afghanistan
Four years ago India may have defeated Afghanistan 4-0, but times have changed and the visitors are undoubtedly the better side at the moment. The Afghan strikers are in a rich vein of form and Indian defenders looked far from convincing against Maldives and this gives a definite edge to the Lions of Khorasan. That being said the Blue Tigers backed by the crowd would provide Afghans with their toughest test of the tournament. TheHardTackle predicts a 2-1 for Afghanistan.
Blast From The Past
Here are the highlights from the final of the 2011 SAFF Cup which India won 4-0
Pic Credits: AIFF Media