BY RAHUL BALI Follow @rahulatma on twitter
Alberto Colaco mentioned that the 2013 edition of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship was by far one of the most competitive ever.
“The scores in the group and knockout matches show that this was a very competitive tournament. Even Bhutan put up a very improved performance. Sri Lanka had a bad result in the first match (against Maldives where they lost 10-0) as their Goalkeeper was sent off early in the match,” he told Goal.
Afghanistan were ranked 177 before the start of the 2011 edition of SAFF Championship. On being queried on the progress they made that they are now the top ranked nation in the region, Colaco explained, “Afghanistan are doing very well recently and they have climbed up considerably in the FIFA rankings. They have a number of players playing in the second and third leagues in Europe and the USA. Their captain (Haroon Amiri) plays in the I-League. The experience gained in playing in competitive leagues has helped their players to improve.”
Most south Asian nations including India haven’t progressed much over the last two years as they are often seen complaining about a lack of infrastructure, not playing enough on FIFA matchdays and so on. Colaco pointed that more players from the region need to play in competitive leagues abroad.
“I think that it will help if the SAFF Countries have more players playing in the more competitive leagues abroad. Unfortunately the lower leagues in Europe and the US do not attract players from India as the salaries are lower than what they get here (in India).”
While there have been talks of conducting a SAFF Club Championship in the past, it was concretized last week where it was decided that the competition would soon be organized in the near future.
“All SAFF countries feel that a SAFF Club Championship will help in improving the standard and competitiveness of their national leagues. After examining the schedule competitions in most of the SAFF Countries, we feel that holding the tournament in August will be suitable to all countries. The big problem is to find a sponsor or marketing partner to finance the competition. The budget for this tournament is around US$ 1 million.”
One of the most enthusing aspects of the 2013 edition of the SAFF Championship in Nepal was the number of fans thronging to the stadiums. Whether such a scene will ever be replicated in India two years later remains to be seen as that wasn’t the case in 2011.
“The response of the crowd, especially for the Nepal matches was fantastic. Even for the finals there were around 12000 spectators. The price of tickets for the quarter-finals was Nepali Rupees 300 and 700. For the semi-finals and finals it was NRP. 5000 and 1000. Compare this with the prevailing ticket prices in the last SAFF tournament held in India and the I-League matches at Goa and Kolkata! In India it will depend on where we hold the tournament.
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