The Lions of Khorasan will look to lay claim to the Blue Tigers’ SAFF crown, with India looking to do a repeat of last time’s final and fizzle Afghan hopes…
In what many consider a surprise matchup, Afghanistan will take on India in the finals of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship final in 2013 edition of the tournament. India have reached the final for the ninth time in the history of the competition and in doing so have set an individual record whereas this is Afghanistan’s second outing in the finale.
In truly riveting fashion, India booked their place in the final of the tournament by tossing Maldives out in with a late goal courtesy of Arnab Modal. It was a much improved performance by the Tigers, especially in comparison with their outings in the group stages.
In his post-match interview, Dutch coach Wim Koevermans, was all praise for his Indian team, acknowledging their effort in reaching the final and he believes they are just ninety minutes away from claiming the country’s seventh SAFF crown.
“I am very proud of the boys today. I think they played a good game and that’s how they play when completely free to play. This is how good India can be. They were very disciplined in everything we wanted to do. Defensively they were patient and once we got the ball, we played football.
“This is how they can be when they don’t load themselves with lots of pressure. In first three games they put themselves under pressure and there you see different players on the ground to the one I know. But today is the team I know it can be. Very good combinations and everyone played a very good game,” he added.
India has been bolstered with the fact that Sunil Chhetri will be available for selection as it would surely add more teeth to their attack.
When quizzed if this was the best performance by his side under him, he opined, “Well sometimes you have to look beyond results but I also need to see my team taking steps in the right direction. When the pressure is high we needed to step-up play like this and today we did. I think we have done better before but not always have got the right result. For me, it’s important to see that the boys are improving.”
Looking forward to the game, the coach revealed, “It’s going to be an interesting game and Afghanistan are a good team. They have improved themselves over the past two years, but we are here to win the cup and our goal was to play five finals and win the cup. It’s some 90 plus minutes left to achieve our goal but it’s going to be a very interesting game.”
The Afghan camp, however, will be in full gusto as the identity of their final opponents. They will want to take revenge, for when the two teams met last time in the tournament final, India ran out one nil winners.
“For us it doesn’t matter who plays against us, whether it is India or Maldives. Inshallah (God willing) we will win this tournament this time and I hope India will be in the final,” expounded Afghan forward Sanjdar Ahmadi.
“Oh it’s a great win for us and it’s a dream come true. Two years ago we played in the final and it was a disappointing result for us. Now we are in the final again and we are ready for it. India and Maldives are good teams but we don’t know much about it. We are ready for the final whoever it is,” elucidated captain Haroon Fakhruddin.
With the Afghan players desperate to face India, and now after getting their wish, they hope to push full throttle and do what no Afghan team has done before them.
“That (2011 final) loss affected the players, coaches and everyone else a lot. Everyone in Afghanistan is passionate and can’t wait to take the cup back home. They (the players) are working hard and they don’t want to go away without a Cup,” Yousef Kargar, coach of the Afghanistan team, revealed.
Afghanistan are likely to miss the services of defender Ferzad Ataee who suffered from a mild heart attack and since then, has been discharged from the hospital.
India’s road to the finals has been marred by controversy and poor form whereas the Afghan engine has been working like clockwork, with them being decisive and precise in attack and defence.
India may have all the records pointing to the SAFF crown being ribboned blue again, however, the Lions will know deep down that this is as good a time to tame the Indian Tigers and claim what is rightfully theirs. Form is a rulebook that does not apply to this final.
The Afghans might go into the finals as favourites in the final for the first time in their tournament history. But make no mistake, India will be looking to claw their way back to the top and judging by the evidence of the semi-finals, a rabbit may still be waiting to be pulled out of the hat.
India have mastered the art of brinksmanship and one-upmanship, yet how much of their experience garnered from the tournament, especially from a pulsating semi-final against then favourites Maldives can be implemented, is yet to be seen. Afghanistan on the other side will pay little heed to bugles blared on the Indian side. A great final, tactical yet unimpeded by strategy, awaits us.
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