SAFF Championship final: Blue Tigers wary of Nepal challenge

The Indian men's football team will take on first-time finalist Nepal in Saturday's SAFF Championship summit clash.

Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac will be forced to watch the India vs Nepal SAFF Championship final from the stands as he picked up two bookings in the previous game against Maldives and was sent off.   -  AIFF MEDIA

The Indian men's football team will embark on a mission to bring home its eighth SAFF Championship title when it takes on Nepal in Saturday's final.

The Blue Tigers got off to a woeful start but recovered well to win their last two matches and progress to the summit clash. The side will not have coach Igor Stimac on the sidelines as the Croat picked up two bookings in the previous game against Maldives and was sent off.

Stimac, who will watch the game from the stands, said his side is raring to go. “We are not allowing complacency to step in. We are aware of what we need to do. There is a very tiny line between being confident and overconfident and I am keeping a close eye that we don’t cross that line,” he said.

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Having played Nepal thrice since September, Stimac said his side was well aware of the challenge ahead. “We are rising as a group, as a team and as a big family playing better football with every given day. We have to be patient, keep working hard and be confident. Nepal are a known opponent to us, as much we are to them. We take confidence in having won the last two matches. But I reiterate, we are not overconfident.”

The side will be without defender Subhashish Bose, who was sent off in the last game. “Subhashish will be missed for sure because he is a left-footed player. He was our sole option as a left central defender at this stage, but we are working to replace him,” said Stimac.

The team will also miss the services of Farukh Choudhury and Brandon Fernandes, who have been ruled out due to an ACL injury and a quadriceps injury respectivly.

Assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh, who will marshal the Indian side, said the boys need to “enjoy the final.”

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“Nepal are an extremely competitive team, and the motivation of playing for both teams in a final is quite normal. We respect Nepal as a team. We have told our boys to enjoy the final,” said Venkatesh, who won two SAFF Championships as a player.

He added, “It gives us the satisfaction that there are some boys from the U-17 World Cup batch who are settling in fast into the senior team. The players realise the importance of the final and the character on display after the first two games have been exemplary. Youngsters like Lalengmawia, Suresh, Yasir have played a huge role on and off the pitch, while the seniors have gelled well with Sunil, Gurpreet, Kotal, Subhashish, and Bheke leading from the front to keep the flag flying high.”

Lalengmawia, who earned praise aplenty for his performance in the 3-1 win over Maldives, said: “We are ready to give our best in the final. We understand that it won’t be an easy match. We are a young team, and the coach wants to build up a team for the future. I am eager to play my part as much as the others.”

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