Indo-Pak tie spices up SAFF semis

Staff Correspondent | Updated at 11:57pm on September 11, 2018

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India football team players jog during a training session at the Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club ground on Tuesday. — BFF photo

Holders India will be expecting a tough challenge from arch-rivals Pakistan when they face each other in the second semi-final of the 12th SAFF Championship at the Bangabandhu National Stadium today.
Nepal will take on Maldives in the first semi-final at the same venue.
Bangladesh Television and Channel 9 will live telecast both the matches at 4:00pm and 7:30pm respectively.
This is only the second time a SAFF semi-final will be held without the host nation since Nepal’s failure to overcome the group phase at home in 1997.
The absence of Bangladesh in the knockout stage evidently took some of the gloss from tournament off but the intense rivalry between Pakistan and India both on and off gave fans at least something to cheer about.
The match will also be India and Pakistan’s first meeting in this tournament in five years.
Despite sending their Under-23 team, India will go into today’s match as favourites having yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
India are currently ranked 96th in the FIFA World Rankings while Pakistan are placed at 201st.
In the past both countries have faced each other on 23 occasions with India winning on 14 times and losing only three times while the other six meeting ended in draws.
Despite the facts, India’s assistant coach Venkatesh Shanmugam is taking their bitter rivals very seriously for today’s clash.
‘India and Pakistan are serious rivals. Pakistan are physically a strong team. They have good players. It will be a difficult match. We hope to come up with a good result,’ said Shanmugam.
Shanmugam also played down the favourites tag, suggesting that the honour should go to Nepal who looked ‘technically good.’
Pakistan, who have reached the semi-finals after a gap of 13 years, are also eager to seal their place in the final for the first time.
‘I’m very excited to reach the semi-finals,’ said Pakistan’s Brazilian coach Jose Nogueira. ‘My charges have prepared very well. I am expecting a very good and exciting match against India,’
Meanwhile, in the other match, Nepal will be favourites against a Maldives side, who reached the last four of the competition by virtue of coin toss.
Maldives’ suffered a 0-2 defeat against India in their last Group B match while their first match against Sri Lanka ended in a goalless draw.
Both Maldives and Sri Lanka ended their group phase on equal one point and same goal average, prompting the tournament organisers to hold a toss.
The dismal show of Maldives has also earned some criticism for German coach Petar Segrt, who left out some key players like Ali Ashfaq.
Rumour was in Dhaka that Maldives Football Federation had sacked Segrt before the semi-final though the German coach quickly dismissed it.
‘I’m still the coach of Maldives. I’m relaxed on that situation because I have a very good president at the federation,’ said the coach.
‘Some media of Maldives tried to make confusion between me and my assistant coach by publishing wrong features and they did it just before a crucial match,’ he added.
Nepal head coach Balgopal Maharjan said they were ready to give their best and make the final for the first time in history.
‘Day by day my players are improving as an individual and as a team. I appreciate all my players, the regular players and the substitute players who are trying to score for the team,’ he said.
‘I have confidence on my players that they will reach the final.’