For a team that hasn’t won an international or a tournament outside India since 2005, it seems like a contradiction that India have a reputation to defend in the SAFF Championship and that anything but retaining the title would seem like an under-par show. Moreoever, the only time India opened against Pakistan in this competition, at Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Stadium in 2003, they lost 0-1.
Maybe that’s why India coach Wim Koevermans had said on Friday that they should treat every match like a final.
Coincidentally, the teams go into Sunday’s match having lost 0-3 in their last international, both away. Pakistan were tamed by Afghanistan and India by Tajikistan.
Five players in the Pakistan squad play outside the country as opposed to none for India. Their biggest star is defender Zesh Rahman who is now with Hong Kong’s Kitchee FC having played for Fulham earlier. Rehman’s duel with India skipper Sunil Chhetri could be an interesting sideshow at the Dasarath Stadium on Sunday evening.
All the others are based in Europe. Goalie Yousuf Butt, defender Yakub Butt and striker Hasan Bashir play in Denmark and midfielder Adnan Ahmed, who’s had a stint with Manchester United colts, plays non-league football in England.
Koevermans started with the Nehru Cup title around this time last year but India’s failure to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup in Myanmar earlier in 2013 means there could be added pressure on the former Dutch international.
India don’t have any injury problems and going into their opener wouldn’t mind being told that Pakistan have never made it to the final of this tournament which began in 1993.