As the SAFF Championship approaches, Goal profiles the 8 contenders who vie for glory in the South Asian International tournament. In this edition, we focus on India...
COUNTRY NAME: India
GROUP : A (along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal)
ADMINISTRATIVE BODY: All India Football Federation (AIFF)
FIFA RANKING: 145
NICKNAME: Blue Tigers
Last Official Match Played: Tajikistan 3-0 India (14th August 2013)
|History And Team Highlights
Though football as a sport had existed for a long while in the country, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was formed in 1937 as a regulatory body for football in India and the country's first major international showing was in the 1948 Olympics, where they played barefoot against mightly France and still lost only 2-1.
Perhaps the greatest foot-in-mouth moment for the AIFF came two years later when India had qualified (by virtue of all the qualifying opponents pulling out) for the 1950 World Cup to be held in Brazil. Having qualified, the AIFF declined to attend the grandest tournament of them all, citing travel expenses, despite FIFA generously offering to pay for a large part of it. The country has never even come close since then.
1951 to 1962 was the golden era for football in India without a shadow of a doubt. They won the 1951 Asian Games, beating Iran 1-0 in the finals. They won several editions of the Quadrangular Cup, came second in the 1954 Asian Games and were placed fourth in the 1956 Olympics. Then they won the 1962 Asian Games as well and came second in the Asian Cup in 1964. Third place in the 1970 Asian Games was the end note of this era.
Then came a long dry spell broken by successive gold medals in the SAF games in 1984 and 1987. They also won the first SAARC Cup (now the SAFF Championship) in 1993 and finished second in 1995. They have never finished below third place in the tournament and have been champions a record 6 six times.
They've also won the Nehru Cup all three times after its re-inauguration, in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Their most recent major international tournament was the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, where they were unable to get out of a strong group that had Australia, South Korea and Bahrain and finished bottom.
The Blue Tigers are not expected to return to that level of competition any time in the near future, having failed to make it to the main edition of the AFC Challenge Cup, to be held in Maldives.
|History In The SAFF Championship
India have been the dominant force in the competition, since its very inception. Infact they have made the final every single year except 2003, when they finished third.
In 2003, a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka saw India limp into the semi-finals, where an extra-time strike saw hosts Bangladesh reach the final at the expense of the then two-time defending champions.
The home side eventually beat Maldives on penalties in the final, to lift the trophy, while India edged out Pakistan 2-1, to seal third place, with a goal each from Vijayan and Abhishek Yadav.
Last time round, India hosted the 2011 edition, and were placed in Group A with Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
The Afghans proved to be difficult customers for the Blue Tigers to deal with, drawing 1-1 in the opening encounter, with Sunil Chhetri’s equaliser cancelling out Balal Arezou’s 5th minute opener.
India then thumped Bhutan 5-0, before breezing past Sri Lanka 3-0, but still finished second in the group, after Afghanistan thumped Bhutan 8-1.
In the semis India faced Maldives, who had finished above Nepal in their group on goal difference as well.
However the Red Snappers failed to mount a challenge against the hosts in the last four, losing 3-1, allowing Savio Medeira’s side to reach the final, where they faced Afghanistan, who were in the title clash for the first time ever, having beaten Nepal in extra-time.
The final though, saw India eventually run away as clear winners, scoring four goals in the second half with Afghanistan down to ten men, after a tense first 45 minutes. Sunil Chhetri got the all important opener via the penalty spot, before Clifford Miranda, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sushil Kumar Singh added to the score-line, sealing India’s sixth title.
Here is a more detailed analysis of each of India’s SAFF Championship campaign - SAFF Championship Special: A look at India's history in the tournament
|2013 SAFF Championship Squad
Goalkeepers: Subrata Paul, Karanjit Singh, Sandip Nandy.
Defenders: Nirmal Chettri, Arnab Mondal, Gouramangi Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Sandesh Jhingan, Mohanraj Nalappan.
Midfielders: Syed Rahim Nabi, Mehtab Hussain, Arata Izumi, Lenny Rodriguez, Alwyn George, Jewel Raja Shaikh, Francis Fernandes.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, Dawson Fernandes, Jeje Lalpekhlua.
|Players To Watch Out For
Sunil Chhetri - Basically the go-to man for Indian football since Bhaichung Bhutia hung up his boots at the International level. A record of 37 goals in 66 games speaks its own story. With the supply line of quality strikers drying out, Chhetri is the vital man upfront for the Blue Tigers. Whenever he has not had a good game for the national side, more often then not, India have given a lackluster performance, as the Bengaluru FC forward is quite often, the country’s biggest match-winner, a trend likely to continue in Nepal.
He was instrumental in India’s last win in the championship, and if Wim Koevermans’ side are to win their third title on the trot, then the striker will have to be at his imperious best.
Mehtab Hussain – Games in the SAFF Championship can often get scrappy, with a physical contest ensuing. Such a scenario would definitely delight Mehtab, who loves to fly into tackles, and dominate the opposition’s midfield. The player, who has been linked with trials in Spain, is also a smart passer of the ball, looking to win possession and recycling it to the more creative midfielders in the side.
With India’s defense often looking unstable, the shielding job done by him and Lenny Rodrigues has become even more important for the Blue Tigers.
Arnab Mondal – The centre-back was a favourite of Trevor Morgan, during the Englishman’s time at East Bengal. However he bizarrely was overlooked for the national team on several occasions, while an injury prevented him from being available for selection in the Challenge Cup qualifiers.
However recently he won his first cap, and now has a chance to go to a tournament with the national team. It remains to be seen if he is given a chance to establish himself in the heart of the Blue Tigers’ defense, but observers have often pin-pointed the central defense as an area where the country can improve.
A good physical presence who is competent in the air and assured in the tackle, Mondal has all the attributes to be a good partner for Gouramangi Moirangthem in defense. It remains to be seen how highly Koevermans rates him though.
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