SAFF Championship: Seven-time champion India kicks off campaign with first match against Bangladesh
Seven-time champions India have declared their intention to snatch the prestigious South Asian Football Federation regional tournament starting with Male, Madives from October 1 (Friday). India opened their campaign with the opening game against Bangladesh at the National Football Stadium on October 4.
The bus team travels to the hotel from the airport aboard the speedboat – the only mode of communication in the island nation, which took 40 minutes could have caused enough discomfort for the team of 23 members.
However, people like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Captain Sunil Chhetri and others shrugged their shoulders as they traveled to the island to complete club duties last month.
“The weather is fine right now and I hope we will make the nation proud and give it something to celebrate,” the Indian keeper promised. “We are ready and have played football which is good. We hope to continue our momentum and reach the final on October 16, ”he told the-aiff.com on Wednesday.
The unusual number of international tourists enjoying their vacations in a bubble at the team hotel pleasantly surprised midfielder Anirudh Thapa.
“It’s so nice to see families on vacation while respecting all health parameters. This is something we had never heard of for the past 19 months, ”joked Anirudh Thapa. “But we are not on vacation. We have a job to do, and it’s a difficult job. Football is what we are here for. For us, the holidays can wait, ”Thapa added.
With the contingent comprising the national head coach, support staff underwent an RT-PCR test before leaving Bengaluru and upon arrival at the hotel.
The Indians have won the SAFF Championship (formerly SAARC Cup) seven times: 1993 (Lahore), 1997 (Kathmandu), 1999 (Margao), 2005 (Karachi), 2009 (it was a competition for under 23 teams years in Dhaka), 2011 (New Delhi), 2016 (Thiruvananthapuram).
The team trained on the artificial training ground of the Maldives Football Association, but the journey from the team hotel to the venue will be by speedboat. “Boat rides will be a common feature for us over the next two weeks,” said Rahul Bheke. “This is my first SAFF championship and I want to make it unforgettable. The quality from our side is unmistakable. We’ve played seven international matches since March, and looking back, we wonder how many teams have played so much during the pandemic. We are here to make our mark, and I would rather take it day to day, ”said the defender.
National football head coach Igor Stimac joined the team directly in the Maldives.
“We are thrilled and expect them to succeed and go through with the tournament,” Stimac told the-aiff.com. “For some of them it will be a bit more difficult to shine because their clubs have not yet started the preseason. But we are very confident that each of them will do their best, ”he added.
“It feels good to be here. It really is an extraordinary effort that has been made. Considering the current situation, it is extremely difficult to organize matches, leave out an entire tournament. I wish the entire organizing committee, the Maldives FA and the Maldives government all the best for the championship. I understand this is a huge task and I hope everyone stays safe so that we have a tournament cracker, ”said captain Sunil.
“Since I was a child, I have heard so many anecdotes about the SAFF championship. So it’s a different feeling for me to be in the team for this edition. We understand that the next two weeks will be extremely difficult and that there will be very close games. The whole team is up for the challenge, ”said midfielder Brandon Fernandes.
The team will be inside a secure bio bubble throughout the tournament. The weather forecast calls for cloudy skies with isolated thunderstorms for the next few days.
October 4: vs Bangladesh (IST 4:30 p.m.).
October 7: vs Sri Lanka (IST 4:30 p.m.).
October 10: vs India (IST 8:30 p.m.).
October 13: vs Maldives (IST 8:30 p.m.).
GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh, Vishal Kaith, Dheeraj Singh.
DEFENDERS: Pritam Kotal, Seriton Fernandes, Chinglensana Singh, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai.
MIDFIELDER: Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Lalengmawia, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeakson Singh, Glan Martins, Suresh Singh, Liston Colaco, Yasir Mohammad.
BEFORE: Manvir Singh, Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary.