The Lions of Khorasan will take on the Red Snappers looking to claw their way to the top spot, though the latter seem to be the team of the tournament...
Five days and eight matches, at the time of writing, into what has been a truly enticing South Asian Football Federation’s (SAFF) tournament, it is no surprise who the fans vote for as the team of the tournament so far.
The Maldivian national team, with their irresistible and squash buckling style of play, has managed to plunder EIGHTEEN goals in just two matches. It comes as no surprise that people have already listed them out as potential tournament champions.
Their real test however will come against a stubborn Afghan team, whose discipline may not wreak havoc into the opposition, but controlled play has gotten them within touching distance of the all-important top spot in Group B.
Confidence in the Maldivian camp seems to be sky high after they defeated a hapless Bhutan 8-2 thanks to SIX second half goals, four to hitman Ali Ashfaq’s credit. He has now surpassed Bhaichung Bhutia’s all-time goals tally at the SAFF Championships and there seems to be no stopping him at the moment.
Speaking post-match, Istavan Urbanyi, the Hungarian coach of the Maldives, stressed the importance of his team's latest win while aiming to finish top of the group. “Simply speaking I want to win the group and thus play whoever finishes second. I don’t want to lose any game in my life.”
It highlights the belief they have in their ability to take it all the way on this form. The coach also went on to argue that it was their tactic to put pressure on the opposition team in the hope of draw foul after foul and eventually getting a player sent off.
They are in the know of their opponents in Afghanistan who may not win with the verve of the Maldivians but go about their job quietly. After gaining qualifications, like their next opponents, to the semi-finals, the Afghans know it is a game of wits that will help them stamp their authority over the Maldivians.
Said coach Yousef Kargar after beating Sri Lanka three goals to one, “We changed tactics in the second half. Our physical play put Sri Lanka down and we changed players also.”
Kargar though, mentioned that he would have a word with some of the players, as their performance was not up to the mark, but in the end, it was the three points that mattered. He mentioned, “Today I am not satisfied with many players. But I am happy with the result.”
He also addressed a mentality that might seem to echo mutual feelings in the Maldivian camp. “We would like to play against India in semi-finals. Against Nepal, it’s their stadium and their crowd. We would like to face them in the final.”
Afghanistan will go into the final Group B match knowing a victory will help them possibly evade the tournament hosts Nepal, who go into duel with India. Maldives only need a draw to secure the top spot due to their superior goal difference.It all boils down to team selection and tactics but if both teams play the way they have been so far for the tournament, the only real winners will be the fans.
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