If India's must-win game against Nepal on Sunday was about survival, Wednesday's round-robin meeting against hosts Maldives is the knock-out, a virtual semi-final as the seven-time champions fight for a place in the final of 2021 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship. What happens after the final whistle at Male on Wednesday will have a bearing on Indian football's future. (More Football News)
A win and the Indian national football team will have a chance to redeem itself after so many disheartening results. But a defeat, or even a draw will not only witness a premature end to the campaign but also set tongues wagging. The result will reverberate for a long time. After all, Indian football is on the ascendency. Sunil Chhetri & Co should be making the passage to the final of a regional competition fairly simple, easy. But they are doing it the hard way.
India, the highest-ranked team in the five-team tournament, played out frustrating draws against Bangladesh (189) and Sri Lanka (205), jeopardising their chances. India have always made the final in the tournament's 12 previous editions, except once in 2003, when they lost to Maldives in the Dhaka semi-final.
Needing a win against Nepal, 168th in the FIFA rankings, to keep the hopes alive, India registered a hard-fought win with Chhetri scoring the all-important goal for what turned out to be the skipper's 77th international strike -- a feat which put him in the same bracket with Pele, at least on international goal count. Now, India face a buoyant Maldives in a fixture with everything to play for.
Maldives surprisingly lost to Nepal (0-1) on an opening day fixture, but they beat Bangladesh (2-0) and Sri Lanka (1-0) with Ali Ashfaq scoring in both the games. He's already Maldive's all-time top scorer with 55 goals. Maldives, who have won their second title in the previous edition, are India's main rival in the tournament. With a population of less than six lakhs, they continue to challenge bigger, more powerful regional rivals.
Standings And Final Qualification Scenario
Maldives lead the points table with six points from three matches. Nepal, also with six points, are second on goal difference. India are third with five points. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are fourth and fifth with four and one points each. Top two teams after the round-robin stage advance to Saturday's final.
Both Maldives and Nepal need a draw to make the final. For India and Bangladesh, draws will not be enough.
But India and Bangladesh can still play the final if they win their respective final league matches. Nepal take on Bangladesh (kick-off time - 4:30 PM IST) before India vs Maldives match on Wednesday. (UPDATE: Nepal played out a 1-1 draw with 10-man Bangladesh to enter their maiden final.)
India lead the head-to-head record 14-4 against the Maldives. There were two draws too. In their last meeting, India lost 1-2 in the SAFF 2018 semi-final.
Match and telecast details
Match: SAFF Championship 2021 match between India and Maldives
Date: October 13 (Wednesday), 2021
Time: 9:30 PM IST/ 9:00 PM Local
Venue: National Football Stadium, Male, Maldives
TV Channels: EUROSPORT/HD
Live Streaming: Discovery+ app.
Bangladesh - T Sports;
Maldives - Yes TV
Sri Lanka - Football Sri Lanka TV
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith;
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Seriton Fernandes, Chinglensana Konsham, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai;
Midfielders: Udanta Kumam, Brandon Fernandes, Lalengmawia, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeakson Thounaojam, Glan Martins, Suresh Wangjam, Liston Colaco, Yasir Mohammad;
Forwards: Manvir Singh, Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary.
Head coach: Igor Stimac
Goalkeepers: Mohammed Faisal, Mohamed Shafeeu, Ali Najih;
Defenders: Ahmed Nooman, Hussain Sifau Yoosuf, Haisham Hassan, Akram Abdul Ghanee, Samooh Ali, Gasim Sammaam;
Midfielders: Ashad Ali, Ibrahim Aisam, Mohamed Umair, Hussain Nihan, Hamza Mohamed, Ismail Eesa, Ibrahim Waheed Hassan;
Forwards: Hassan Raaif Ahmed, Mohamed Naaim, Ibrahim Mahdhy Hussain, Assadhulla Abdulla, Ali Fasir, Ali Ashfaq, Naaiz Hassan, Ali Haisham.
Head coach: Ali Suzain