Follow News18 Sports’ live blog of the Indian vs Maldives, SAFF Championship match.
Nepal are waiting for their opponents in the final after they secured their spot with a draw against Bangladesh. India drew their first two matches of the tournament against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka after which they needed a win against Nepal in the third match to stay in the tournament. The Blue Tigers did edge out Nepal to boost their chances of making the final. They now need a victory over Maldives to secure their berth in the final.
The worst performance for seven-time champions India was the third-place finish in 2003 and the country has either won or finished runners-up in 11 previous editions.
wo-time and defending champions Maldives have never been easy opponents for India in the history of this regional tournament though the island country sits 51 ranking points below India in FIFA chart at 158th.
The side led by veteran Ali Ashfaq, one of the best strikers in the region, have regrouped themselves after losing their opening match against Nepal, beating Bangladesh 2-0 and Sri Lanka 1-0. Just like India captain Sunil Chhetri, the 36-year-old Ashfaq has carried Maldives football on his shoulders for a long time and he has scored two of his side’s three goals in this tournament. He will, no doubt, be the man India will have to be wary about.
India coach Igor Stimac has rued the inability of his forwards to convert the scoring chances. “We need to improve our scoring from the chances which we are creating,” he said. “It is simple, if we do that, games become very easy. Otherwise you need to suffer till the end, or even beyond the end,” he added, still believing that his side can reach the final.
With the football crazy Maldivians likely to play the role of 12th player on Wednesday, the onus is on Stimac and his men to avert the country’s worst football ignominy in a long time.
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