After two disheartening draws, India revived their 2021 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship campaign with back-to-back wins against Nepal and defending champions Maldives. On Saturday (October 16), Sunil Chhetri & Co will face first-time finalists, Nepal in Male. (More Football News)
The draws against lower-ranked Bangladesh and Sri Lanka left India fighting for survival in the five-team tournament. But skipper Chhetri once again turned saviour for Igor Stimac's men, scoring the lone goal in the must-win match against Nepal. It was followed by a brace in their 3-1 win against hosts Maldives in the virtual semi-final.
In the process, Chhetri, 37, became the third most-prolific scorer among active footballers with 79 goals. He's only behind two of the greatest players who have played the game --Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (115) and Argentina's Lionel Messi (80). In fact, Chhetri can overtake six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi with a brace against Nepal.
India have never failed to appear in the final, except the 2003 edition in Bangladesh. And with a win against Nepal on Saturday, India can actually mend some broken hearts too. A young Indian team lost to the Maldives in the final of 2018 edition in Dhaka. The then head coach, Stephen Constantine bravely rested both Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
On Saturday, India will miss Farukh Choudhary, who suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury during the round-robin match against Nepal.
Know Your Opponents
For Nepal, it will be a new experience. They have never played in a SAFF Championship final. Their best run in the tournament was in the inaugural edition (1993) when the Gorkhalis finished third in the four-team competition. They have since reached the last-four stage in 1999, 2011, 2013 and 2018.
Nepal have so far scored six goals as against India's five, with Anjan Bista contributing with two. Besides the 23-year-old forward, Nepal have capable players in Suman Lama, Ayush Ghalan and Manish Dangi.
In May, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) extended Stimac's tenure until September 2022 but the Croatian's position remains untenable with a series of poor results against lower-ranked teams.
For Abdullah Almutairi, the final against India will be his last match as Nepal head coach. Kuwaiti said that he "will never come back to Nepal." Apparently, Almutairi is not happy with the life in the Himalayan Kingdom and claimed that the media is "attacking him".
Also, there was an episode between the two coaches during Nepal vs India, round-robin match. Stimac broke into a dance after Chhetri's match-winning goal. But it didn't go down well with Almutairi, who termed the Croatian's jig "shameful". And Stimac hit back, asking "I’m not sure what's wrong with my celebration. Can you tell me?"
Stimac will be absent from the touchline though, after his send-off during the Maldives clash.
India lead the head-to-head record 15-2 in the previous 22 meetings. Nepal last defeated India (2-1) in a SAFF match in 2013. Their first win was in the 1993 SAF Games in Dhaka, 4-3 in penalties.
Match and telecast details
Match: 2021 SAFF Championship Final between India and Nepal
Date: October 16 (Saturday), 2021
Time: 8:30 PM IST/8:00 PM Local
Venue: National Football Stadium, Male, Maldives
TV Channels: EUROSPORT/HD
Live Streaming: Discovery+ app.
Bangladesh - T Sports;
Maldives - Yes TV
Sri Lanka - Football Sri Lanka TV
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith;
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Seriton Fernandes, Chinglensana Konsham, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai;
Midfielders: Udanta Kumam, Brandon Fernandes, Lalengmawia, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeakson Thounaojam, Glan Martins, Suresh Wangjam, Liston Colaco, Yasir Mohammad;
Forwards: Manvir Singh, Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary.
Head coach: Igor Stimac
Goalkeepers: Kiran Kumar Limbu, Deep Karki, Bishal Shrestha;
Defenders: Ananta Tamang, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Gautam Shrestha, Suman Aryal, Rajan Gurung, Kamal Thapa, Suraj Jeu Thakuri;
Midfielders: Ayush Ghalan, Bishal Rai, Nitin Thapa, Pujan Uperkoti, Santosh Tamang, Sujal Shrestha, Sunil Bal, Tej Tamang, Rohit Chand;
Forwards: Aashish Lama, Anjan Bista, Manish Dangi, Nawayug Shrestha, Suman Lama.
Head coach: Abdullah Almutairi.