India already in last four

India needs a win to top group

Male: Despite sealing a semifinals berth without much hiccup, India will have to mend a few chinks in its armour if it wants to defeat a confident Maldives in its final Group ‘A’ match here on Saturday and carry the winning momentum to the knock-out stage of the SAFF football championship.

Both India and Maldives have made it to the semifinals after two wins from as many matches, but the host has been more impressive than the defending champion so far.

India will require to win on Saturday to top the group, while Maldives needs just a draw to do so as it has a better goal difference.

India was listless during its 2-1 win over Pakistan on Thursday though it started the tournament with a bang with a 4-0 thumping of Nepal.

India coach Bob Houghton attributed the lacklustre show by his charges to the schedule and the resultant players’ fatigue, but what he had forgotten was that the opponents followed the same routine.

“It is impossible to play three games in five days. We have to think about the players, it will kill them. In the last 20 minutes, my boys felt they were not well,” Houghton had said after the match on Thursday.

India may rest a couple of key players, including captain Baichung Bhutia, to preserve them for the semifinals and Houghton’s comments also indicated this. He may try out a few new faces like Anwar Ali in the defence. Forwards Manjit Singh and Abhishek Yadav are expected to take the field as Sushil Kumar received a second yellow card in the match against Pakistan.

Maldives, on the other hand, is brimming with confidence. It picked up the winning momentum from its 3-0 victory over Pakistan before playing its best match on Thursday against Nepal whom it beat 4-1.

Maldives’ strike duo of Ibrahim Fazil and Ismail Mohammed are in great form, scoring two goals each against Nepal, and they will severely test the Indian defence.

Slovakian Jozef Jankech , must be hoping that veteran Ibrahim comes out good on Saturday. — PTI

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