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India face Afghanistan in opening match

sports Updated: Dec 04, 2009 23:00 IST

Hindustan Times
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Sukhwinder Singh returns as national coach after four years on Saturday when India take on Afghanistan in their SAFF Cup opener, at the Bangabandhu National Stadium. On Friday, Sri Lanka beat Pakistan 1-0 through Wella Gunaratne's 25th minute penalty.

Following a decision by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), an India under-23 team is taking part in this biennial tournament involving south Asian countries. Most of the squad though are regulars in the I-League. India, runners-up after conceding a late goal against the Maldives in 2007, are grouped with the defending champions, Nepal and Afghanistan.

The squad skipped Friday's opening ceremony and trained for two hours on Friday evening. “International competition is always difficult and nobody is an underdog here. We respect our opponents but we want to make a good beginning in the SAFF Cup,” Sukhwinder, 60, told the AIFF website.

Sukhwinder's last international assignment was the tour of Fiji in 2005. He has been part of JCT's coaching staff for all editions of the National League which began in 1996 and the I-League which succeeded it in 2007-08. India are 135th on the latest FIFA rankings and Afghanistan are 192nd.

India's likely line-up: Arindam Bhattacharya; Denzil Franco, D Ravanan, Rowilson Rodrigues, Robert Lalthlamuana; Joaquim Abranches, Baldeep, Jagpreet, Jibon Singh; Balwant Singh, Sushil Singh (captain).