Hello and welcome to Sportstar’s blog of the India vs Maldives SAFF Championship 2021 match being played at the at the Maldives National Football Stadium.

This is Neeladri Bhattacharjee bringing you the minute-by-minute update.

Match Preview

Needing an outright win to remain alive in the SAFF Championship, the Indian football team will take on host Maldives in its final round-robin league match on Wednesday.

A draw or a loss will see seven-time champion India miss the final, which could further raise questions on head coach Igor Stimac’s future with the team.

India’s worst performance SAFF Championship so far was the third-place finish in 2003 and the team has either won or finished runner-up in 11 previous editions. All the four top sides in the five-team tournament remain in contention for the October 16 final.

SAFF Championship: What the India football team needs to qualify for final

With five points from two draws and one win, India is currently placed third below Maldives (six points from three matches) and Nepal (six points from three matches). Nepal plays Bangladesh (fourth place with four points) in an earlier match on Wednesday.

Two-time and defending champion Maldives has never been easy opponents for India in the history of this regional tournament though the island country sits 51 ranking points below India in FIFA chart at 158th.

The side led by veteran Ali Ashfaq, one of the best strikers in the region, has regrouped after losing its opening match against Nepal by beating Bangladesh 2-0 and Sri Lanka 1-0.

Just like India captain Sunil Chhetri, the 36-year-old Ashfaq has carried Maldives football on his shoulders for a long time and has scored two of his side’s three goals in this tournament. He will, no doubt, be the man India will have to be wary about.

India felt the absence of experienced Sandesh Jhingan in deep defence as it could not defend a 1-0 lead against 10-man Bangladesh, which scored a late equaliser despite numerical inferiority.

In the second match against 205th-ranked Sri Lanka, Indian forwards, including Chhetri, had an off day as they could not create enough chances and also failed to finish whatever few scoring opportunities that came their way to hold on for a 0-0 draw.

I hope to keep playing and scoring in foreseeable future: Chhetri after equalling Pele

Chhetri came to the rescue of the team once again against Nepal, scoring the decisive goal to equal the legendary Pele’s tally of 77 international goals. The team continues to depend on Chhetri for goals and lacks any proven goalscorers.

Udanta Singh, right winger, has been inconsistent though he has shown flashes of his abilities at the flanks while Seriton Fernandes in defence and Brandon Fernandes in the midfield have done reasonably well.

Stimac rued the inability of his forwards to convert the scoring chances. “We need to improve our scoring from the chances which we are creating,” he said.

“It is simple, if we do that, games become very easy. Otherwise you need to suffer till the end, or even beyond the end,” he added, still confident that his side can reach the final.

Complete Indian squad

Goalkeepers: Dheeraj Singh, Vishal Kaith, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Chinglensana Singh Konsham, Mandar Rao Dessai, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Seriton Fernandes. 

Midfielders: Udanta Singh, Brandon Fernandes, Lalengmawia, Anirudh Thapa, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeakson Singh, Glan Martins, Suresh Singh, Liston Colaco, Yasir Mohammad.

Forwards: Manvir Singh, Rahim Ali, Sunil Chhetri, Farukh Choudhary

Complete Maldives Squad

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Faisal, Mohamed Shafeeu, Ali Najih

Defenders: Ahmed Nooman, Hussain Sifau Yoosuf, Haisham Hassan, Akram Abdul Ghanee, Samooh Ali, Gasim Sammaam

Midfielders: Ashad Ali, Ibrahim Aisam, Mohamed Umair, Hussain Nihan, Hamza Mohamed, Ismail Eesa, Ibrahim Waheed Hassan.

Forwards: Hassan Raaif Ahmed, Mohamed Naaim, Ibrahim Mahdhy Hussain, Assadhulla Abdulla, Ali Fasir, Ali Ashfaq, Naaiz Hassan, Ali Haisham

Where can you watch?

The SAFF Championship will be telecast in India on Eurosport and Eurosport HD. It can also be watched live online on Discovery + App. Kick off at 9.30 pm IST.

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