When it’s the SAFF Championship, everybody wants to beat India. Afghanistan want to do that, more convinced that they were denied by the referee in the final of the last edition against India. That was three months short of two years ago in New Delhi but Afghanistan have let it be known that that they are still hurting.
After beating the hosts 1-0 in Sunday’s semifinal, coach Yousef Kargar had said he would prefer playing India in the final because he wanted revenge. Ensuring continuity in the narrative on Tuesday were assistant coach Ali Zawad Attaii and skipper Fakhruddin Amiri. With seven players in the starting 11 based overseas — four in the lower leagues of Europe and two in the USA —Attaii also said he had no doubt which team was qualitatively superior.
“We are physically, technically better. Our defence, midfield and strikers are better. We must now ensure that we can show (on Wednesday) that we are the better team. This will be a revenge of sorts. Everyone in the country felt bad at what happened last time when the referee changed the game,” he said.
It seems Singapore referee Sukhbir Singh who showed a red card to goalie Hamidullah Nesar Ahmad in the 2011 final which India won 4-0 is as disliked in Afghanistan as Byron Moreno was — or possibly still is — in Italy after the 2002 World Cup.
All this suits the tigers in blue fine, said head coach Wim Koevermans. “We are happy with whatever they think about India… But such comments can give you extra energy. (Maldives) made a big mistake in underestimating us. We don’t do that,” he said.
At 139 on the Fifa list, Afghan-istan are this competition’s highest ranked team, six slots ahead of India, but Lenny Rodrigues said such things don’t matter. Part of the Nehru Cup winning squad in 2012, Rodrigues said retaining India’s supremacy in south Asia is a bigger deal than beating a selection from Cameroon at home.
Rodrigues’ central midfield partner Mehtab Hossain said India would need to reproduce the collective effort that took them past Maldives. Hossain and Arnab Mondal will kit up when East Bengal aim for their first semifinal berth in Asia.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri returns from suspension and could be the only change replacing Robin Singh if Izumi Arata recovers from a knock on the back.
Unlike against the Maldives, Koevermans said he anticipates a physical game. “Don’t underestimate the smaller players in my team. They are sharp as piranhas.”
With Afghanistan angry and India having a reputation to defend, the Dashrath Stadium should come alive for one final time in this competition.
The writer’s trip has been sponsored by World Sport Group