The SAFF Championship, or a tournament of the ‘not so well known’ football nations, who struggle for success at the international level kicked-off with teams fighting for bragging rights in the region.
While many consider India, Maldives, Bangladesh or a Nepal to be heavyweights in the SAFF region, the opening matchday results defy this theory. Except for the Sri Lanka – Bhutan match, the rest failed to produce a winner as one got to see three consecutive draws, which certainly isn’t the best advertisement for the game or the tournament.
Ahead of matchday two, we look as to how each of the eight teams have fared:
The Island nation have been one of the most impressive sides in the competition although that was further accentuated by Bhutan’s poor defensive organization. The two strikers, Nipuna Bandara and Mi Mohamed Zain, seem to have a good understanding between them being ably supported by Chathura Gunaratne and Rizvi Tuwan.
Profligacy in front of goal saw them miss several chances as they could have easily beaten Bhutan by a much bigger margin. They played some good attacking brand of football which was easy on the eye. They are definitely one of the contenders to go into the semi-finals.
The fact that coach Hiroaki Matsuyama made two substitutions before the half-time whistle gave an indication that things aren’t right in the Bhutan camp. There are several players in their squad who share the same name so probably there was a case of miscommunication in following the coach’s instruction! Well, that’s just a wild guess!
Their defense was all over the place as they allowed way too much space for the opposition to operate and neither are they very incisive in their counterattacks, something which is best embodied by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
While the coach remains hopeful of making it into the knockouts, they do not stand much chance in the competition.
The underdogs punched above their weight as they were clearly the better side against India in the first half and could have gone onto to win the tie towards the end had it not been for Karanjit Singh’s heroics between the posts.
Belal Arezo, their star striker, didn’t disappoint with a well taken goal while skipper Haroon Fakruddin made a mockery of the Indian defense on a couple of occasions. Following their draw in the first game, they shall be buoyed and expect them to put in a good fight to make it into the next round. They are certainly the darkhorses of the tournament.
The defending champions impressed in patches though their display left a lot to be desired. Certainly it was a good come back following the 5-0 thrashing meted out by Zambia a few days back, but the Men in Blue need to be reminded that they are playing in a competition where they are supposedly the favourites, something which is very uncommon!
The Indian wingers, Steven Dias and Clifford Miranda, didn’t offer much in the attack and neither aided the full-backs, Samir Naik and Syed Rahim Nabi, in defense. Jeje Lalpekhlua looked rusty while the only positives one could take were the performances by Sunil Chhetri and Karanjit Singh. While a lot of criticism has been directed at the Indian skipper Climax Lawrence, it was he, who created most of the chances for Clifford and Chhetri.
After the EURO 2012 draw was announced, Iker Casillas, the skipper of the world champions Spain, wrote in his official Facebook page: “We must never be too confident…”
Probably Bangladesh coach Nikola Ilievski needs to learn a lesson or two from the Spaniard as he was far too overconfident at the pre-tournament media address and showed the arrogance of being the highest ranked nation in the competition. He had mentioned that he would speak on his team’s tactics following their opening match against Pakistan.
He had to eat his words out as the Bengal Tigers were held to a 0-0 draw by Pakistan, a game which the latter could have won. Expectedly so, the coach began to give excuses and would now know learn to respect his opponents.
Coming into the tournament with new coach Zavisa Milosavljevic taking charge of the team only a few weeks back meant that the team was under-prepared for the competition. The Serbian rightly pointed out that they do not have a number nine in their team and that was quite evident against Bangladesh as they were wasteful in front of goal.
They do not look like a side who can progress into the semi-finals but certainly have the potential to cause an upset.
The Gorkhalis have impressed the most with their attacking display where they dominated Maldives for most of the match. Under Graham Roberts, Nepal are the ones to watch out for as creativity oozes out of their squad.
Anil Gurung was the villain for them in their tournament opener and the sooner they can sort that, the better. The likes of Rabin Shrestha, Raju Tamang and Jumanu Rai would certainly be household names in this part of the world if they continue to perform like they did against
The award for the most disappointing side in the competition would go to the 2008 SAFF Championship winners. Much was expected from them and they were second best against Nepal.
Over reliance on Ali Ashfaq is one of the reasons for their downfall as the rest of the gang failed to create or hold onto the ball. They have the potential to win their competition on paper how that needs to be translated on the pitch.
Coach Istvan Urbanyi hinted at making a few changes in the line-up from the last match and highlighted the importance of snapping three points.