India the record champion starts favourite to defend the crown

India will look to put the disappointment of being denied participation into the Asian Games behind it.

Stephen Constantine says that the India U23 players have worked very hard during the camp in Australia ahead of the SAFF Championship.   -  PTI

India, record seven-times champion, will start as the favorite to defend its title at the 12th SAFF Championship that kicks off in Dhaka on September 4.

India's preparation

The under-23 national team had a training camp in Australia and played friendlies against APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC, Rydalmere Lions FC and A-League champion Sydney FC.

The preparatory camp in Australia was preceded by a month-long training camp in Delhi. Coach Stephen Constantine had called 34 players to the camp that included four under-17 players (Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Rahim Ali and K. P. Rahul).

Read: On tournament eve, AIFF yet to announce team

Assessing the team's chances, Constantine said: “The boys have worked very hard through the camp but I would have really liked more international games.”

Other teams in fray

Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and host Bangladesh are the other six teams participating in the tournament, which is scheduled to be played from September 4 to 15.

Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan fielded their under-23 teams at the Asian Games, which India missed after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) denied the team clearance to play in Jakarta.

For the four other nations, this will be their first competitive tournament in a while. India last played a competitive international tournament in June, when it hosted and won the Intercontinental Cup. India, however, will miss the services of its senior players as Constantine has decided to field an under-23 team.

India is in the three-team Pool B, alongside Maldives and Sri Lanka and begins its campaign against Sri Lanka on September 5 before taking on Maldives on September 9.

Tournament format

The top two teams from the two groups will qualify for the semifinals. Group A consists of host Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Maldives.

Possible challengers for India

The young Indian team is likely to qualify from Group B as the winner and might face either 161st-ranked Nepal, 201st-ranked Pakistan or 150th-ranked Maldives in the semifinal.

Bangladesh, the 2003 champion and ranked 194 in the world, is expected to top Group A and play either Sri Lanka or Maldives in the semifinal. India, then, is likely to meet Bangladesh in the summit clash.

The host Bangladesh, which qualified for the first knockout round of the Asian Games and kept a clean sheet during the three-match group phase, will be India's strongest challenger in the competition.

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