A-Z of SAFF Championship: From Ali Ashfaq to Zohib Islam Amiri via Chhetri and Gouramangi

With the SAFF Championships almost upon us, Goal takes the time out to give you the A-Z of the tournament held in Nepal...

GOALBY   KAUSTAV BERA     Follow @hopelessk on twitter

As India are set to defend its SAFF Championship crown in Nepal, Goal brings you the A-Z of the tournament...

A is for Ali Ashfaq: The Man of Steel boasts a stellar goal scoring record of 26 goals in 39 appearances for Maldives and will be instrumental in his team chasing another SAFF Championship win.

B is for Bhutan: The lowest ranked team in the tournament, it will take a major upset for the small nation to qualify from the Group that also has Afghanistan and Maldives besides dark horses Sri Lanka.

C is for Chhetri: The Indian skipper, Sunil Chhetri who had a mixed season, last year with his stint at Sporting Lisbon 'B' not working out but had success with the national team leading them to a Nehru Cup win. He played a key role in Churchill Brothers' title triumph in the I-League in the second half of the season.

D is for Dasarath Rangasala Stadium: The stadium in Kathmandu will see the majority of the matches including the showpiece semi-finals and final. It can seat a maximum of 18,000 people. Both India vs Pakistan and India vs Nepal in the Group stages will be held here

E is for Exit:
 Zaviša Milosavljević, who had been the coach of Pakistan since 2011, was sacked for losing against Afghanistan in Kabul 3-0, and assistant coach, Shahzad Anwar has taken over since then.

F is for Fazeel: Ibrahim Fazeel was the top scorer for Maldives when they won the 2008 SAFF Championships but would be sadly missing this edition. Fazeel is also the all time top scorer for the islanders in SAFF tournaments.

G is for Gouramangi-Gaikwad combo: For all intents and purposes, they form the heart of India's defense. Gouramangi Moirangthem and Raju Gaikwad will have to be in their best form in order for India to retain their title.

H is for Halchowk: This is a small stadium seating about 3,500 in the Bagmati area in Kathmandu and will be the home for five group stage matches, including India taking on Bangladesh.

I is for India: The clear cut favourites to win the competition, India who are the defending champions and six time winners of the competition are aiming to make it a hat-trick of successive wins this time around.

J is for Jeje: With India lacking the perfect partner to Sunil Chhetri upfront after Bhaichung Bhutia's retirement, it is the turn for Jeje Lalpekhlua to prove that recalling him into the national fold wasn't a bad idea. With 8 goals in 16 appearances and finding a new club in Dempo SC, Jeje will be raring to go.

K is for Kargar: The Afghanistan coach will be ready to better the 2011 SAFF performance when they went down to India in the final. They shall mount a serious challenge as they thrashed Pakistan 3-0 at Kabul in a preparatory match.

L is for Local: Sri Lanka and India has turned up at the SAFF Cup with all of their players playing locally in their respective countries. Even Bangladesh with one and Bhutan with two have players who ply their trade outside their countries.

M is for Maldives: The Red Snappers might be missing Ibrahim Fazeel but led by Ali Ashfaq they will be raring to go, to win their second SAFF Championship after their landmark victory in 2008. They do have to strive to finish on top of their group by beating Afghanistan in order to prevent a possible meeting with India in the semi-finals itself.

N is for Nepal: The hosts, Nepal will look to make use of their local advantage to win their first SAFF Championship title. New American coach, Jack Stefanowski who took over Graham Roberts will have to come up with a good display to reward the football crazy local fans.


O is for Outstation:
The Afghanistan and Pakistan team boasts of the most number of overseas players.
P is for Pakistan:  They do boast of a balanced side with five foreign based players augmenting their squad. They have been grouped alongside Bangladesh, India and hosts Nepal. 

Q is for Question mark: Its all up for grabs as to who will win the SAFF Championships, as on their day India, Afghanistan, Maldives all can run away as winners.

R is for Rehman: Pakistan have an experienced campaigner in Zesh Rehman who currently plays for Hong Kong based, Kitchee FC. The defensive midfielder has played in the English Premier League and is the only player in the competition to boast such credentials, having played for both Fulham as well as Queens Park Rangers, among others.


S is for Syed Rahim Nabi:
India's Mr. Dependable has been selected for the SAFF Championships after being dropped for the friendly against Tajikistan. 

T is for Telecast: Good news for Indian football fans as finally they will be able to see India LIVE at the SAFF Championships in Nepal as all India matches will be on air live on Star Sports 2. So cheer for India to go all the way!

U is for Urbanyi: Istvan Urbanyi is presently serving his second spell as the coach of Maldives

V is for Vejle FC: The Danish first division team is home to Israfeel Kohistani, the Afghanistan No. 7 who was in top form in the last SAFF Championship. The pacy winger is also one of the most experienced player in his side.

W is for Wim Koevermans: The India national coach has failed to secure qualification to the AFC Challenge Cup but has managed to win the Nehru Cup against a Cameroon (comprising only local players) team. He will look to win his first SAFF Cup which will be a respite for all the flak he has recieved for failing to win the friendlies against higher ranked oppositions.


X is for X-factor:
 Afghanistan are the highest ranked team in the competition and it seems they have the X-factor needed to go all the way through. and they are also the highest ranked in Fifa competitions and deservedly so.

Y is for Yosufzai: Afghanistan No. 1 keeper, Hamidullah Yosufzai will want to forget his horror showing in the 2011 SAFF Championship final in which his team had a more than good chance of winning. It was the goalkeeper who got himself sent off for pushing the referee which led to India running away with the title.

Z is for Zohib Islam Amiri: The 26 year old who is well known to Indian fans as he plies his trade at Mumbai FC, Zohib Islam Amiri is also the most capped Afghan player besides being the skipper of the country that were losing finalists to India in the 2011 SAFF Championships.

Follow Kaustav Bera on