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The SAFF Championship started on October 1 after being postponed twice due to Covid-19 and the five participating countries are – India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and hosts from the Maldives. Pakistan and Bhutan are not part of the tournament because the Pakistan federation has been suspended by FIFA, while Bhutan does not want its players to travel.
Going into the tournament, India will be eyeing their eighth title. India is the most successful country in the championship with seven wins. India is the favorite to win the tournament, having won three of the last five editions.
In their last five matches, India was held three times by a draw by their neighbours, one of them being a 1-1 stalemate in the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on 15 October 2019. Final matches, which also included in the World Cup qualifier, India defeated Bangladesh 2-0.
Before the match, Indian men’s football head coach Igor Stimac said that “the first match is always the hardest” of any tournament.
“Bangladesh is a well-known opponent, but we respect them a lot. In fact, we respect every team that plays here and they have an equal chance of winning the tournament,” said the coach.
Team Captain Sunil Chhetri emphasized that the “message from our coaching staff and Head Coach is very clear”.
“It’s more and more about how we play. We have to make sure we minimize our mistakes, and we have to make sure we give 100 percent in every game, no matter what. We can’t be complacent,” Sunil warned.
Stimac has made no secret of the fact that he will make the most of the ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC players who have previously played in the AFC Cup in the Maldives. “We rely on players from Bengaluru FC and ATKMB because they not only played here a few weeks ago, but also started working with their respective clubs. And they had enough training and competition in their legs. So their engines are good for such’ a tournament,” he said.
“We have to be careful about the number of minutes we give each player in line with what they can do at the moment in terms of stamina.”
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was part of the triumphant squad in 2015, added: “Teams have improved a lot since the last time we played against them. Teams have become more organized and know how to play according to the weaknesses of the game. other team. You can’t take any team lightly anymore.”
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