Category: SAFF Championship

We didn’t disappoint anyone else but ourselves, says Constantine

DHAKA: Coach Stephen Constantine, after going down in the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 final against Maldives narrowly, stated that the team “didn’t disappoint anyone but ourselves” as they “didn’t do enough to win the game”.

“We didn’t play the game according to our potential and that’s where the lack of experience matters. We weren’t able to replicate our performance from the semi-finals (against Pakistan) and that’s what seems to happen when you play with younger boys. They don’t have the consistency and the experience to play at the same level every game but they’ll learn from this. I think we didn’t disappoint anyone else but ourselves. We didn’t do enough to win the game but we move on from here”, Constantine stated during the post-match press conference in Dhaka yesterday (September 16, 2018).

“The way they performed and delivered in the last 10-12 days, I’m extremely proud of them. They are the future of India football for the next 6-8 years. I’m extremely proud of the boys and it’s going to be a good learning experience for them”, Constantine added.

On being asked whether there was a tinge of complacency amongst the boys having won over the same opponents in the group stage, coach brushed it aside.

“I don’t think there was a question of underestimating Maldives at any point of time. Maldives had our full respect but we couldn’t do what we were capable of doing. Maldives deserve the credit for sitting back and keeping on frustrating us in the way we play.”

“We were impatient a few times and lost the balls quite a few times to lose the control of the game. Moreover, two silly mistakes cost us heavily as they fired two decisive goals. That’s football and we learn from this”, he added further.

Moreover, he mentioned that the boys’ movements were ‘fantastic’ against Pakistan but they were not able to replicate the same in the final.

“Our movement against Pakistan was fantastic but not against Maldives (in the final). Although some of the players were good, others were not. Had our movement been good enough, we could have won the game”, Coach lamented.

Lallianzuala Chhangte who appeared to have added more flair in the attacking third in the group stage, as well as semi-finals, was suspended in the final owing to the marching orders that he received against Pakistan.

Coach referred to that incident as well, “After beating Pakistan, we were not going to change the team and he would have only started at the bench. But, would he be able to add something more? Absolutely. We did miss him but I would say again, he was not going to start the game.”

Along with congratulating Maldives for their achievement, he mentioned that had India scored 15 minutes sooner, the complexion of the game might have been different.

“We scored 8 goals in 4 games which I don’t feel is bad. Yes, we couldn’t score enough tonight. Had we scored 15 minutes sooner, maybe, that could have been a different game. Maldives defended well till the end and went on to win the trophy. I would like to congratulate them on achieving this.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the BFF and SAFF for being such a nice host to us”, he pronounced.

Maldives wins SAFF title after defeating India in Final

DHAKA: The Indian National Team went down fighting 1-2 against Maldives in the Final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka today (September 15, 2018).

Maldives scored a goal-a-piece in either half, and the only Indian goal came in the added extra time of the second handed courtesy of a Sumeet Passi strike as the Islanders went on to win the SAFF Trophy.

The Indians however, started on a positive note but a couple of brilliantly executed counter attacks and a resilient defensive display from the Islanders shattered the defending champions’ dream of clinching their record eighth SAFF title.

India were the brighter side at the starting of the match as they continued to push Maldives to their limit until they scored against the run of the play in the 19th minute. On a quick counter-attacking move, Naiz Hussain played a deft delivery to Ibrahim Hussain only to see him gleefully score the opener before the 20-minute mark. Meanwhile, this was the first instance in the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 where India were trailing against their opponents.

India, in their pursuit of the equaliser, came close quite a few times but the attackers were missing the finesse in front of the opposition goal. On the half-hour mark, Ashique delivered a low cross from the left flank directed to Farukh who lost his balance to lose the opportunity. On the resultant corner, Subhasish jumped to head it home but the Maldivian goalie Mohamed Faisal fisted the danger away.

One minute later, Manvir Singh, who happened to be the reigning highest scorer of SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018, latched on another attack but it rippled the side-netting. India headed to the changing room trailing by the solitary goal.

Maldives doubled their lead in the 68th minute only to add a pinch of salt to India’s wounds. On another quick counter-attacking move, Hamzath Mohamed outran the Indian defence line to glide it on to an onrushing Ali Fasir who poked it home to send the Maldives bench into a rupture.

Subhasish got another tantalisingly appealing chance to breach the Maldivian defense from a well-taken corner by Hitesh in the 79th minute. He was left completely unmarked and a tap-in could have done the trick for the boys in Blue but the skipper mistimed it to see the ball go out of bounce.

Sumeet Passi sprung some life into the game having scored a goal for India in the added time but it was too late to deny the inevitable. On a cross from the right wing by Nikhil, Sumeet tucked it in to breach the sturdy Maldivian defense finally. The Maldivian goalie came out with another couple of terrific saves to deny the Indians to clinch their second SAFF Championship trophy.

INDIA: Vishal Kaith (GK), Davinder Singh (Germanpreet Singh 46′), Sarthak Golui, Salam Ranjan Singh, Subhasish Bose (C), Nikhil Poojary, Anirudh Thapa (Hitesh Sharma 73′), Vinit Rai, Ashique Kuruniyan, Farukh Choudhary (Sumeet Passi 68′), Manvir Singh.

SAFF Championship: India, Maldives to do it all over again

DHAKA: The 2018 SAFF Suzuki Cup final will be played between two teams who have faced each other more than any other in the competition’s history: Maldives and India. They have faced off on 12 previous occasions in the tournament, including four finals, with this their first clash in the final since 2009, when India won on penalties after a goalless draw at full time.

The two sides have already met in this year’s tournament. India won 2-0 in the group stage thanks to goals from Nikhil Poojari and Manvir Singh.

In their last match against India in the group stages, Maldives recorded a passing accuracy of just 50.9% as they went on to lose 2-0. That is the lowest percentage of any team in a match at this year’s tournament, and they will have to improve upon their quality in possession this time around, both with their passing and their finishing accuracy.

This year, they come into the final despite having only won one of their three matches in the tournament, a 3-0 win over Nepal in the semi-final. Two of their goals in that game came from Ibrahim Waheed Hassan. Their key creative influence comes in the form of wide man Ali Fasir, who, despite only starting two of their three matches in this year’s tournament, has created more chances than any other of his teammates (5).

Maldives will be facing this year’s joint-top scorers at the SAFF Suzuki Cup, with India scoring seven goals in just three games. Defensively, they will have to be at their best to keep them at bay, and captain Akram Abdul Ghanee would be key in this effort. Not only did the centre back score the opener in their semi-final win over Nepal, but he has won more tackles (5), made more interceptions (9) and made more recoveries (22) than any other outfield player for the Maldives in this year’s tournament.

“We have struggled in the group stages but we’re in the final now. This is our biggest chance. We haven’t played the final in 9 years. We’re well prepared and we’re going to fight to win the tournament.” said the Maldives skipper Akram Abdul Ghanee at the pre-match press conference of the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

The Maldives Head Coach Petar Segrt was delighted with his team making it to the final and said, “We are facing a huge opponent. India has a population of 1.3 billion and we are 300,000. But tomorrow it will be 11v11 on the field.”

“If India is fielding U23 players, we are fielding semi-professionals. Most of our players work for eight hours and then train. I’m very proud of each one of them. It’s a huge success for us to be in the final of this competition. We respect India, they’re a big opponent. But this is our chance which we want to take it,” he added.

India have been a dominant force in the SAFF Suzuki Cup over the years. They have won the tournament more times (7) than any other individual nation has even made it to the finals (Maldives will be playing their fifth final this year), and their seven tournament wins is more than every other side has managed combined (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Afghanistan all with one win each).

In addition to having scored the most number of goals (7, alongside Nepal), they have also been the most clinical with their finishing. Not only have they had the highest percentage of their shots on target, but they have the best shot conversion rate of all sides at this year’s competition too.

A large part of that can be attributed to the player who has been their main threat going forward, Manvir Singh. He has scored more goals than any other player at the 2018 SAFF Suzuki Cup (three), including a brace in their 3-1 semi-final win over Pakistan. He also scored against Maldives in the group stage, so they will know all too well about the danger he poses.

Stephen Constantine, Head Coach of the Indian Football Team said, “I’m pleased with our progress in this competition. I think we’ve played very well and we deserve to be in the final. Maldives were excellent against Nepal, and I don’t think anyone expected how well they would perform in that game. They have some really good players, and have our full respect, but we fear no one”.


DHAKA: Two delectable strikes from magical Manvir Singh and an opportunistic header from substitute Sumeet Passi helped defending champions India breeze past Pakistan 3-1 to romp into the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka on Wednesday (September 12, 2018).

After a goalless first-half, Manvir scored his first in the 49th minute only to double the score-line twenty minutes later. Substitute Passi sealed the fate of the match in the 83rd minute. For Pakistan Hassan Bashir reduced the margin in the 88th minute.

India will now meet Maldives in the summit clash on September 15 (Saturday) who made short work of Nepal 3-0 in the first semi-final.

The first goal came off a brilliant counter-attack. Ashique Kuruniyan, relying on his signature pace ran past everyone down the left and unleashed a low cross which was gleefully tapped in by Manvir to set the Indian fans berserk.

If that was good, the second goal was even better.

Lalliazuala Chhangte who replaced Nikhil Poojary in the 68th minute made an immediate impact as India doubled the lead. The super-sub made a blistering run down the middle of the pitch, sidestepped two defenders and passed it to Vinit Rai. The midfielder on turn rolled it to Manvir who blasted it home from top of the box.

However, following a challenge, Manvir was substituted as Stephen Constantine brought in Sumeet Passi.

The former AIFF Academy cadet took less than a minute to join the party as he found the target in the 83rd. Ashique, the architect of the first goal, made an identical run down the flank to deliver it for Passi who headed home clinically.

However, India received a blow as Chhangte was given marching orders for an off the ball offence on Mohsin Ali. Mohsin was also red-carded for his challenge.

Earlier, India had the first opportunity of the game in the 10th minute itself but that time Manvir wasn’t able to connect Ashique’s perfect cross.

Seasoned Pakistan goalkeeper Yusuf Butt also came up with some spectacular saves to keep the Indians at bay in the first-half – the most notable being his save to deny Subhashish Bose’s volley off an Anirudh Thapa corner.

India survived a scare in the 39th minute when Pakistan earned an indirect free-kick at the edge of the 6-yard box but Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith came up with back to back saves to deny Pakistan.

INDIA: Vishal Kaith (GK), Davinder Singh, Sarthak Golui, Salam Ranjan Singh, Subhasish Bose (C), Nikhil Poojary (Lallianzuala Chhangte 68′), Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Ashique Kuruniyan (Vignesh D 89′), Manvir Singh (Sumeet Passi 82′), Farukh Choudhary.


DHAKA: He is a former Indian Captain and is the currently the Assistant Coach of the Indian Senior National Team. Shanmugam Venkatesh who led India in the last bilateral series against Pakistan in Pakistan in 2005 feels all matches against Pakistan is primarily a “psychological battle.”

“Be it a player or a layman, everyone gets to feel the heat when an India-Pakistan match is scheduled. Everyone gets into the zone before the match,” Venky-bhai as he’s fondly called by the players, opined.

“In India, we are acquainted with the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. At the international stage, everyone regards the India-Pakistan fixture very highly. This battle is primarily a psychological one. The mindset of the team decides whether they’ll prevail or not,” he added.

“Players will need to understand the importance of the fixture. They need to grasp every single aspect of the game. Is it a home game or an away one? Which tournament are they playing?” Venkatesh stated.

On being asked about his personal memories of playing Pakistan, the 40-year-old quipped: “I still remember my first Pakistan match. We played them in Goa — it was SAFF Championship 1997 which we went on to eventually win,” he recollected.

“We had a clinical game and won 2-0 at the end. Technically, maybe we were superior but as I said before, the game relies on the steel nerve mentality of the team.”

The three-time SAFF Champion (1997, 1999, 2005) also ended up on the losing side once out of the seven matches he played against Pakistan.

“I played 7 matches against Pakistan and lost once. That was in the Friendship Cup in 2005. We drew and won the other two matches. The series ended 1-1 but after the loss, it was like the end of the world for us. Such was the reaction from everyone,” he smiled.

This Friendship Cup was also significant to have seen a youngster scoring his maiden goal for the country on his debut in front of a legion of Pakistan supporters on their own soil – Sunil Chhetri.


DHAKA: A day ahead of India’s semi-final clash against Pakistan in the SAFF Suzuki Cup semi-final, India National Team’s Assistant Coach Venkatesh Shanmugam lauded Pakistan for their “character” and reaching the semi-finals coming back from a 3-year suspension.

“They (Pakistan) have been thorough and sharp on the pitch. It’s not an easy job to reach to the semi-finals after a 3-year-long break. But they have made it possible, and that too in some style,” Venkatesh echoed.

“Reaching the last four after a gap of 13 years shows their character and how motivated they are. We respect them as our opponents and it’s going to be a tough game for us,” he uttered in the official pre-match press conference.

“We understand that there is a lot of madness around this fixture but we are considering this just as another match. We have to get the job done. Only then we stand in with a chance to retain the SAFFSuzuki Cup, Venkatesh, a former Indian National Team Captain stated.

India have had the upper hand against Pakistan in Footballing encounters having won 18 out of the 31 encounters so far. Even in the SAFF Championship, India have won 4 of the 7 encounters against Pakistan.

“But all of that is history. We have come here with a young squad and we are focusing on providing the boys an opportunity at the International stage. We can never be labelled as favourites. But yeah, we have a strong intent to win it,” he mentioned.

On the other hand, Pakistan skipper Saddam Hossain showed his respect for India and said that the Indian youngsters have “enough potential and intelligence.”

“We have immense respect for India. They have come with a young team but we have seen their athletic prowess during the group stage. They have enough potential and intelligence to outplay their opponents on a given day,” Hossain commented.

Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira stated that in spite of being well aware of the fanfare around the fixture, they are unfazed and focusing on just the game.

“It’s going to be my first experience of an India-Pakistan match but I have been well acquainted with this sort of rivalry. But we have to concentrate on our game and stick to the plans to churn out a positive result,” Nogueira commented.

Hossain mentioned that Pakistan have never been able to reach SAFF Championship final and now they will fight tooth and nail to break the jinx.

“Yes, it hurts. But we’ll fight till the end to make it possible this time. We have faced quite a few difficulties in the last 3 years but now, we are trying to bounce back.”

The match is scheduled to kick-off at IST 7 pm and will be telecast live on D Sport.

Clash against Pakistan is just another match: Stephen Constantine

DHAKA: Even as the footballing fraternity all around look ahead to India’s semi-final clash with Pakistan in the ongoing SAFF Suzuki Cup, National Coach Stephen Constantine described it as “just another match.”

Courtesy India’s back to back victories against Sri Lanka and Maldives by an identical 2-0 margin, India booked a semi-final clash with Pakistan which will be played at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka on September 12 (Wednesday).

“We are aware of the contest. But that is nothing different. It’s just another match. We can’t let the occasion get over us and hopefully, we will beat them to advance to the final,” Constantine commented.

The two sides last played an official match in September 2013 in Kathmandu, India emerging winners by a solitary goal on that occasion. Incidentally, Pakistan have qualified to the last-four of SAFF Suzuki Cup after 13 long years and they now clash with the 7-time champions.

Constantine lauded Nepal’s achievements and expressed they were deserving entrants to the semis.

“Nepal have played some stupendous football and they have deservingly reached the semis. Hopefully, we get a win against Pakistan and face Nepal in the final,” he maintained.

Nepal will play Maldives in the other semi-final which is scheduled on the same day (September 12, 2018) at IST 3.30pm.

Meanwhile, Manvir Singh declared Most Valuable Player for his performance against Maldives stated his first International goal was his ‘most delightful moment’ as a Footballer.

“Scoring for the country is always special. The first goal – it’s a different emotion. I was sniffing around but the goal was eluding me,” he quipped. “So finally, when I made it, it was the most delightful moment for me as a footballer. The win has been a result of our team game and now we’re looking forward to the semi-finals.”

Indo-Pak rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit, says Zesh Rehman

DHAKA: Be it a Football match or any other sport, there are a handful of sports rivalries across the globe which can match up to the sheer frenzy created by a face-off between India and Pakistan.

The wait isn’t long anymore as after a prolonged gap of 5 years; the two countries will be meeting in an official match at the SAFF Suzuki Cup semi-final on Wednesday (September 12) in Dhaka.

A couple of days prior to the high-profile clash, Pakistan’s Central Defender Zesh Rehman and Captain Saddam Hossain felt that “such a match is special,” and that the players “need to give that bit extra” to end up on the winning side.

“It’s always special to play India. I believe it’s same for the Indian players too when they play against Pakistan,” Zesh Rehman, the first player from the SAFF region to have played in the EPL, stated.

“The match has a lot of history. The emotions involved is huge. The rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit,” the former Fulham defender added.

“This particular match means a lot to both the countries and the players. The adrenaline rush around this match is profuse. We have to be very cautious and can’t afford to let the emotions take over us,” he smiled.

Over the years, Rehman has plied his trade in Club Football for Fulham, QPR, Brighton & Hove Albion, Norwich City and many more during his illustrious career.

Talented midfielder Saddam Hossain, the present Captain of the Pakistan squad also didn’t hide his excitement to play against India.

“We can’t just wait to play against India. We have every ounce of respect for our opponents but that won’t deter us from playing our natural game. We have shown our worth and I believe it’s going to be a heck of a contest and no one will prefer to give it a miss,” Hossain maintained.

The last time the two teams met in an official encounter in 2013 in Kathmandu, Saddam was just unstoppable down the right and hit the post twice. That apart he was also part of an unofficial U-23 Friendly series in Bengaluru the following year, where he was adjudged the ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the series.

“Yes, I have a knack of scoring against India (laughs). Give me one Pakistani player’s name who won’t like that,” Hossain laughed.

“We dished out a brilliant brand of football in Bangalore. The series ended 1-1 and we gave the Indians a run for the money throughout. Those were two well-fought contests,” he recollected.

“We were running neck to neck but after that, we were bogged down with a 3-year-long suspension whereas India continued the good work and just went through the roof. They are in a completely different level now and we’re struggling a lot,” Hossain lamented.

He further added that quite a few players are regular in the Danish League and presence of such exceptional talents helped them build a stronger team.

“Md. Ali, Yusuf Butt, Hassan Bashir play in Denmark whereas some other players are also playing in some other professional European leagues. Unfortunately, Adnan (Mohammad) who plays in the premier Danish League is not here,” he informed.

“Zesh-bhai’s (Rehman) career speaks volume about him as a player. Our Coach has put strong effort to build a team within a short duration. We have got some positive results and hope to get more in the coming days,” he maintained.

After the 3-year-long suspension was lifted, Pakistan have played some impressive football in the Asian Games Jakarta 2018 before reaching Dhaka to compete in the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

Incidentally, this is going to be only the fifth occasion when Pakistan have reached the last four in the SAFF Championship. The last instance when they achieved the feat was in 2005 which was hosted in Pakistan.

SAFF Championship 2018: India book semifinal clash with Pakistan

NEW DELHI: India defeated Maldives 2-0 to book a semi-final clash with arch rivals Pakistan in the SAFF Suzuki Cup. The semi-final which will be the first official meeting of the two teams after a gap of 5 years will be played at Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Stadium on Wednesday (September 12, 2018).

The last time the two teams had met in an official match was also in a SAFF Championship in Kathmandu in September 2013. India had won 1-0 on that occasion.

On Sunday (September 9), maiden International goals from Nikhil Poojary (36th) and Manvir Singh (45th) helped India to finish on pole position in Group B on 6 points.

Nikhil could have scored the opener in the 11th minute itself but despite getting all the power behind his header off a Anirudh Thapa cross, it sailed over.

Nikhil and Lallianzuala Chhangte were constantly swapping positions on the wings and that stretched the rival defence. India eventually surged into the lead in the 36th minute. Nikhil played a one-two with Farukh and as the rival defender despite intercepting it fumbled a bit, Nikhil pounced on the loose ball and placed it delectably past the rival Goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal.

Manvir doubled the lead almost at the stroke of interval. Thapa, a bit off-balanced with a rival midfielder shadowing him, managed to essay a gem of a pass for Manvir who sidestepped the onrushing Faisal and pushed it in.

Changing over, Nikhil stayed a constant threat to the Maldives defence all throughout. In the 64th minute, a cross from him down the right was averted by an acrobatic Faisal.

Maldives, meanwhile, continued to look to reduce the margin and had not Jerry Lalrinzuala intercepted in time in the 73rd minute, they could have had a shot at the Indian goal.

The Indian defenders didn’t allow them much space to manoeuvre. In the 78th minute an alert Indian Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith was quick to come off his line, in fact, outside the box to clear in time. Kaith’s reflexes allowed India to maintain a clean slate, the lanky custodian coming up with a couple of saves in the last 5 minutes.

We’re not going to start as favorites, states Constantine

DHAKA: Despite defending champions India staring their defence of their SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 campaign in style against Sri Lanka, a day prior to India’s last group league match against Maldives, National Coach Stephen Constantine declared that his team “is not going to start as favourites in any of the matches” in this tournament.

“In this competition, we are not going to start as favourites in any of our matches. We are a young and inexperienced side and we are playing against senior sides. We can say we have a good chance to win this game. But I don’t feel we can be labelled as favourites before the kick-off,” he stated.

The match is scheduled to be played at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka on Sunday (September 9, 2018) at IST 6.30pm and will be telecast live on D Sport.

History points out that India have got the better of Maldives 13 times out of 18, whereas Maldives have won only twice. The last time the two teams met in the SAFF Championship was in the semi-final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup in Trivandrum in 2015-16 when India rode on a Jeje Lalpekhlua brace and a Sunil Chhetri strike to prevail 3-2.

However, Constantine reflected that ‘history’ won’t play any part when the two teams meet tomorrow.

“I am not a person who loves to focus on history too much. Obviously, it’s nice to look back to find that we have beaten them 13 times. But such facts don’t matter at all,” he maintained.

“Tomorrow we are playing against a completely different Maldives team and they’re also going to face a different India team whom they played last time. Had we won those 13 matches against the same set of players, that would have given us an edge.”

Maldives, meanwhile, played a goalless draw against Sri Lanka in their tournament opener and will be in the desperate hunt for that elusive point which will lift them into the semi-finals.

Reflecting on Sarthak Golui and Ashique Kuruniyan being cautioned in India’s opener against Sri Lanka, Constantine admitted it is a “concern.”

“Yes, that’s a concern for sure. If they get cautioned another time, it won’t be good news for us. We’ll have to be a bit careful tomorrow,” he maintained.

Farukh Choudhary who made his National Team debut against Lanka felt the team is not “under any pressure” at the moment.

“We are not under any sort of pressure. Personally, I am enjoying every single moment in my first National Team endeavour,” he quipped. “Yes, it could have been a dream debut for me had I scored. But leaving the ground with three points is all that mattered.”

“Coach mentioned last day and that our performance was below par. We have realised it too. We can do much better than that. We could have scored a few more goals. We are working on our mistakes and are hopeful to be more clinical tomorrow,” Farukh added.