Maldives will look to hand out a lashing to the sputtering tournament favourites, but Koevermans will have a trick up his sleeve...
India, by all accounts, have been lucky to make it this far, to the semi-finals of the tournament. Feeble in attack, callow in defence, they’ve been found wanting in a majority of the departments ever since the first game of the tournament against Pakistan. The defending champions have looked thoroughly out of sorts.
A crescendo of agony reached full pitch when the home team, Nepal, trounced the Indians by a score-line of two goals to one. It was an awful display.
Post-match Wim Koevermans, Dutch coach of the Indian national team, explained that his team needed to tweak their performances to the plans identified in training but cautiously fended off criticism alleging their performance against the hosts being desperate.
Hidden in the middle of their performance issues, is the fact that Sunil Chhetri, being suspended, cannot partake in the all-important semis, where India desperately need him. His imminent threat will be sorely missed in front of the opposition back-four and the Maldivians have already started to lick their lips at going for the throat of a wounded and depleted India. Robin Singh is expected to be handed a start in the semis in place of the Indian skipper.
Maldives’ Hungarian coach, Istvan Urbanyi, has already master-minded the Red Snappers' raid to group glory. In his ranks, he has Ali Ashfaq arguably the tournament’s most feared striker. He now knows that going for the jugular of a tottering Indian team is feasible, something the tournament's new favourites will aim to achieve.
“India is a difficult opposition because it is well organized and has a lot of potential. This is a very competitive competition and it doesn’t matter whom you play in the semi-final. It will be a tough game. There will be a big fight to reach the final,” said the Hungarian.
Regarding the absence of hitman Ashfaq, in the final group match, “It was his birthday and as a coach it is a difficult decision not to use your best player. Definitely he is the best and most dangerous striker in this region. I had a short chat with players, and Ashfaq asked to think about if we need to take a risk of not being able to use him in the semis, and I said no we don’t have to,” was the comment offered by Urbanyi.
“It is going to be a competitive semi-final, there is no favourite in both games, each and every team has something that they can use to reach the final.
"This is a new game, a new chance and a new story. It is interesting we have the same semis as two years ago. I hope and wish we don’t have same final,” he expounded.
This match then comes at a crossroad of events for the respective teams. Maldives having scored 18 goals in 3 games in the group will have all the confidence required to boot India out, while Indians will look to cling on to whatever they have and possibly pull a rabbit out of the hat.
A scrappy affair could ensue, that could benefit the latter, as they have dug themselves out of many a situation of this magnitude. However, the presence of a clinical Ashfaq holds key to Maldivian hopes.
This match could well boil down to the wire, if the teams play to their strengths, as a wounded India will look to come out fighting. Koevermans will want to prove his point. However, Urbanyi holds all the cards. Expect the fans to witness a fireworks display.
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