SAFF Championship: India, Pakistan renew rivalry in semifinal clash

India brings a 100 per cent win record in the tournament to the semifinals, having played a group match less than its arch-rival.

India finished top of Group B, courtesy of 2-0 wins against Sri Lanka and Maldives.   -  AIFF

Five years after they last met in a fixture of note (at the 2013 edition of the SAFF Championship), India and Pakistan will lock horns in the semifinal of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018, having progressed to the last-four as the Group B winner and Group A runner-up.

India, the tournament favourite, won both its group matches against Sri Lanka and Maldives, though the magnitude of the match against the arch-rival and the pressure of a knockout fixture should make the past results less significant for either side.

India coach Stephen Constantine has downplayed the hype that usually accompanies India-Pakistan clashes. "We are aware of the contest. But that is nothing different. It’s just another match. We can't let the occasion get over us and hopefully, we will beat them to advance to the final,” Constantine said on Monday.

Constantine's assistant, Shanmugam Venkatesh, understands the "psychological battle" that the Indian players will have to overcome to progress to the final.

"Be it a player or a layman, everyone gets to feel the heat when an India-Pakistan match is scheduled. Everyone gets into the zone before the match.

Read: 'Indo-Pak rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit'

"In India, we are acquainted with the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. At the international stage, everyone regards the India-Pakistan fixture very highly. This battle is primarily a psychological one. The mind-set of the team decides whether they'll prevail or not,” Venkatesh said on the eve of the match.

India has been incisive going forward so far in the tournament, but it has also been defensively good, earning two clean sheets along the way. Pakistan scored a goal more than India in the group stage, though it played one fixture more in a group of four teams.

Pakistan coach, José Antonio Nogueira, accepts that India is the better team, but feels the testing fixtures his team played at the Asian Games 2018 leading up to the SAFF Championship can keep it in good stead.

"Undoubtedly, India are the numero uno in region. Coming back from a 3-year long hiatus, we are nowhere close to them. My first target is to close the gap in the next 2-3 years. We’ll then set the target to conquer the region,” Nogueira in an exclusive chat with AIFF.

"We had the PFF Cup and 65 players were selected from there. Since then, we shortlisted 32 and flew to Jakarta to compete in the Asian Games. We had some really tough games against Japan, Vietnam before landing here,” he said.

The kick-off is at 19:30 IST and the match can be viewed on Dsport.