SAFF Cup 2021: India face Maldives in a do-or-die encounter

India are undefeated in the tournament so far but their performances have been hugely disappointing, having won only one game.

Indian football team's training session ahead of their match against Maldives in the 2021 SAFF Championship; Credit: Twitter/@IndianFootball

India face Maldives in a do-or-die encounter in the 2021 SAFF Championship fixture at Maldives National Stadium on Wednesday. Although the Blue Tigers are undefeated in the tournament so far, their performances have been hugely disappointing, having won only one game and drawn two in the round-robin stage. A draw or a loss to the hosts will send Igor Stimac’s side out of reckoning for a spot in the final of the regional tournament, and that will be the worst result for India in recent history. India’s worst performance in the tournament was the third-place finish in 2003.

All the top four teams in the five-team tournament remain in contention for the October 16 final. India are placed third with five points from three games, while Maldives and Nepal have six points each. In the last 11 editions of the competition, India has either won or finished runner-up.

Meanwhile, it will be a crucial match for Stimac also because of his poor win percentage as India’s head coach, and anything less than a title triumph in Maldives would be considered as a failure.

India’s inability to score goals is very much visible. In the opening match against Bangladesh, they had to settle for a 1-1 draw despite playing the majority of the second half against 10-man. And even Bangladesh managed to level the score with a man less.

The second match against Sri Lanka was probably the worst one as all the strikers including Chhetri had an off day. Stimac’s side managed to register only one shot on target which isn’t something you expect from a nation which is aiming to achieve greater heights in the footballing world.

However the last match provided some relief to the Croatian tactician as they secured their first win and three points in the tournament. But the performance was far from convincing. India are still too much dependent on the 37-year-old war horse Chhetri.

Meanwhile two-time and defending champions Maldives have never been easy opponents for India though the Island nation is ranked 51 ranking points below India in the FIFA charts at 158th. The side led by veteran striker Ali Ashfaq started the tournament by losing to Nepal but then defeated Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb to the top of the points table.

Maldives would be India’s toughest test in the competition and considering the fact that the Blue Tigers are still struggling for form, the task would get even tougher.

In the previous match against Nepal, Stimac changed his tactics as he opted to attack down the centre rather than the wings. In the first two matches, wingers Liston Colaco and Udanta Singh started the game but against Nepal, Mohammad Yasir and Brandon Fernandes were brought in to add a bit more creativity. 

Therefore against Maldives, the 54-year-old tactician might stick to the winning formula. Yasir had a decent outing against Nepal and Brandon’s through ball led to Chhetri’s winner.

India need to score goals

India’s defence hasn’t been tested so far, apart from the Bangladesh game, where they struggled to cope with the quick counter attacks of the Bengal Tigers. The absence of Sandesh Jhingan seems to have created a vacuum in the backline. Both Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose who played in the central defence are predominantly fullbacks.

But India’s main issue has been goal scoring and it’s time that the likes of Manvir Singh and Farukh Choudhary step up and take responsibility. The Blue Tigers need to score goals to win tournaments.

“The most important thing for us was to refresh our player’s legs and prepare them for the last group league match. The situation is a bit easier for the Maldives as they need just a draw, and hence, it’s clear what we need to do in tomorrow’s (October 13) game,” the official website of AIFF quoted Stimac as saying.

“I am quite happy with the performances in our last 3 games – looking at the way we played, looking at the possession numbers. We dominated them and our goalkeeper wasn’t much disturbed. But there is an old problem which is following us and that’s converting chances. We cannot be dependent on just one player and need to be more confident in front of goal,” Stimac stated.

Sportslumo Desk

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