Defending champions India are high on confidence but will still have their task cut out when they lock horns with a tricky Maldives in the SAFF Cup football here Sunday. Despite starting their title defence in style against Sri Lanka, national coach Stephen Constantine on Saturday declared that his team “is not going to start as favourites in any of the matches” in this tournament.
“We are not going to start as favourites in any of our matches. We are a young and inexperienced side and we are playing against senior sides. We can say we have a good chance to win this game. But I don’t feel we can be labelled as favourites before the kick-off,” he stated.
The match is scheduled to be played at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
In the past, India have got the better of Maldives 13 times out of 18, while Maldives have won twice. The last time the two teams met in the SAFF Championship was in the semi-final in 2015-16 when India relied on a Jeje Lalpekhlua brace and a Sunil Chhetri strike to prevail 3-2.
However, Constantine said that history won’t play any part when the two teams meet again. “I am not a person who loves to focus on history too much. Obviously, it’s nice to look back to find that we have beaten them 13 times. But such facts don’t matter at all,” he maintained.
“Tomorrow we are playing against a completely different Maldives team and they’re also going to face a different India team whom they played last time. Had we won those 13 matches against the same set of players, that would have given us an edge.”
Maldives played out a goalless draw against Sri Lanka in their tournament opener and will be desperate to earn full points, which will lift them into the semi-finals.
Reflecting on Sarthak Golui and Ashique Kuruniyan being cautioned in India’s opener against Sri Lanka, Constantine admitted it is a “concern”. “Yes, that’s a concern for sure. If they get cautioned another time, it won’t be good news for us. We’ll have to be a bit careful tomorrow,” he said.
Farukh Choudhary, who made his national team debut against Lanka, felt the team is not “under any pressure” at the moment. “We are not under any sort of pressure. Personally, I am enjoying every single moment in my first National Team endeavour,” he quipped. “Yes, it could have been a dream debut for me had I scored. But leaving the ground with three points is all that mattered.”