SAFF Final: An Afghan test for young Indian team

The young Indian team has blown hot and cold during the course of the tournament sometimes to the point of being mediocre. If the semi-final match against Maldives is taken as template for India’s campaign so far, it had all ingredients that pointed to general sloppiness.

India managed to register a narrow 3-2 win over Maldives to enter the final of the SAFF Cup.   -  The Hindu

Stephen Constantine’s young Indian team faces its tallest hurdle: Afghanistan, the defending champion, in the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup football championship at the Greenfield stadium on Sunday.

The young Indian team has blown hot and cold during the course of the tournament sometimes to the point of being mediocre. If the semi-final match against Maldives is taken as template for India’s campaign so far, it had all ingredients that pointed to general sloppiness. India allowed Maldives to score two goals and coach Constantine had pointed to the lack of concentration of his players in the second half.

Similar errors in defence against Afghanistan would be a disaster. “Afghanistan is a good side and we should be at the top of our game and should not give them any New Year gifts. We shouldn’t repeat the silly mistakes we made in the semi-final. It is as simple as that,” he said.

However, the Indian coach admitted that Afghanistan will be the favourite in the final.

“I would say Afghanistan is the favourite mainly because they have 15 players who play in European countries. There is a huge gap between European players and Asian players. We faced the same problem against Guam. People often ask how come a country with just 90,000 people could beat India? But they have a squad made that of players in US. Based on that I would say Afghanistan is more experienced than us but we are at home playing in India. I hope crowd would come to watch us and we hope to use that to our advantage,” he said.

The entry to the final was something which was in coach Constantine’s mind at the start of the campaign. But having reached there, Constantine said his boys will make their opponent work hard for victory.

“It is a fantastic achievement for the young team to get to the final. Afghanistan is not unbeatable and we will fight from the first minute. If we play to our potential and if they have a bad day we can win,” said the coach.

Standing in India’s way is formidable Afghanistan side which has pumped in 16 goals against their opponent. Not only is Afghanistan powerful but also is intimidating as well. However, a pattern has emerged where the team has struggled against opponent which has refrained from playing an open game. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka managed to keep Afghanistan quiet using defensive tactics. However, overall quality and bench strength have enabled Afghanistan to make strong comebacks in both the matches. More than set pieces, it is individual brilliance of its players that has made this team a class apart from its rival. Khaibar Amani (four goals) and captain Faysal Shayesteh (three goals) are the prominent scorers for Afghanistan. Indians will be wary and would have noticed the vulnerability of their opponents.

Coach Faysal Shayesteh was confident of his team winning the title but normally outspoken coach Petar Segrt dwelled on the pressure of playing the host in a hostile atmosphere.

Pressure often plays an active role in shaping the outcome of finals and it will be a test of character for the young Indian team.