The point about why a tournament like the Saff Championship is required is this: nations traditionally weak in football need such competitions to improve rankings besides giving a chance to youngsters to gain international experience. From the Asean Cup to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, football has several such regional meets and not all the countries that take part in them are gladiators on the world stage.
"How can one claim that tournaments like this are pointless? Competition anywhere helps smaller footballing nations like ours and the prominence is only heightened with it being held in India this year," said Sukwinder Singh who guided India to their fifth Saff trophy in 2009 leading a motley crew of under-23 players to victory over Maldives in Dhaka."They were inexperienced but we could not do much about it as Bob (Houghton) did not want to tamper with the senior team at the time. But the youngsters performed because of the pressure that comes with playing international matches. Players like Sushil (Singh), Denzil (Franco), Joaquim (Abranches) among others are full-fledged national team members today," said Singh, speaking from Kolkata where he is technical director of I-League team Pailan Arrows.
India will face Afghanistan in their tournament opener at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday and national team coach Savio Medeira also spoke of the importance of the championship.
"Although I think they missed out on an improvement in the rankings back in 2009 due to the squad being an U-23 team, it was terrific exposure for them. It's an event that gives opportunities to upcoming players and even though the senior team is playing this time, it's got a fair number of youngsters for whom this will be a special experience," said the ex-Salgaocar and India player and coach.
Although Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua returned to India after their trials at Glasgow with Rangers FC, neither was present at Friday's early morning practice at the Ambedkar Stadium. "They've just returned and I'm sure they'll manage to settle in. They're the best forwards in the country right now but a final decision will be taken in the morning meeting," Medeira said while shunning the "favourites" tag.