Lanka take on Afghanistan; history favours India

After holding his aces behind against Afghanistan, Maldives coach Herbert Lloyd hopes to catch tentative host India by surprise when the two sides meet in the first of the semifinals in the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Greenfield Stadium here on Thursday.

India will be without their star striker Robin Singh.   -  S. Manisha

After holding his aces behind against Afghanistan, Maldives coach Herbert Lloyd hopes to catch tentative host India by surprise when the two sides meet in the first of the semifinals in the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Greenfield Stadium here on Thursday.

But Lloyd’s team will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself given the island nation’s poor record against India in SAFF championship. Maldives has beaten India only once in the history of the championship. But Indians, on a rebuilding process, have been inconsistent and Maldives will be hoping to exploit it.

“Look we are delighted to reach the semifinals and it was one of our goals before we came here. We are up against a strong and good Indian side in the semifinal. They are ranked higher than us and they have won this tournament more than anyone else. Our record against them is not so good but we hope to change it if everything falls in place for us. I believe we have the side to do it. The pressure will be obviously on India as host they have to perform and it something which we are hoping to cash on. It is fantastic opportunity for us to play quality football against India,’’ the New Zealander said.

The 30-year-old captain Ashfaq Ali is Maldives trump card. The striker has been among goals in the tournament and has found the back of the net twice with stunning strikes. Lloyd held him back against Afghanistan and fielded him only towards the end of the match. “It was a plan. I wanted to have a look at our bench strength. I am pleased with the way we played against Afghanistan though we conceded some soft goals. But the experience will put will put us in good stead when we play against India. We hope not to repeat the same mistakes,’’ he added.

The New Zealander said Robin Singh’s absence will hurt India but said that the host has enough quality players to trouble his side.

Indian Constantine agreed that Robin Singh’s absence will be loss but said that it was an opportunity for some youngster to grab the chance. “Robin has been a terrific player for us. His absence will be a good opportunity for some youngster to impress and fill his shoes,” he said.

Constantine was not ready to take Maldives lightly and said they were a good settled all-round side. “It will be a tough match for us. They have been impressive in this tournament and they have a good coach. They are highly organised and good in attacking department. We are looking forward to a difficult game,’’ said the coach.

Sri Lanka face an arduous task when they take on a well oiled Afghanistan side. The defending champion has been a class apart in this tournament and has scored the highest number of goals (11) in the tournament. Captain Fayas Shayesteh was confident that his team will enter the final. Though he paid Lankans a lot of respect about their defending abilities, the 24-year-old said his team wouldn’t abandon its attacking style of play. However, Sri Lankan coach Sampath Perera said he has worked out strategies against his opponent. The former Sri Lankan captain said that the key was to seize the opportunites that will come in the match. The coach said that he had faith in his players’ abilities and added that he has built the team around their strong defence. “We hope to upset Afghanistan’s free flowing style and grab that chances which will come our way. The five days rest also has also helped the players recover,’’ he said. With both camps underlying their plans, it will be a show of Sri Lankan resilience against Afghanistan’s flair.