Follow News18 Sports’ live blog of the India vs Maldives, SAIF Championship match.
India drew their first two matches of the tournament against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, after which they needed a win against Nepal in the third match to stay in the tournament. The Blue Tigers overtook Nepal to increase their chances of making the final. They now need a win over Maldives to cement their place in the final.
The worst performance for seven-time champions India came in 2003 with the third-place finish and the country either winning or runner-up in the previous 11 editions.
Two-time and defending champions Maldives have never been an easy opponent for India in the history of this regional tournament, although the island nation is ranked 158th, 51 ranking points below India in the FIFA charts.
The team, led by veteran Ali Ashfaq, one of the best strikers in the region, regrouped after losing their first match against Nepal, beating Bangladesh 2-0 and Sri Lanka 1-0. Like India captain Sunil Chhetri, 36-year-old Ashfaq has carried Maldivian football on his shoulders for a long time, scoring two of his team’s three goals in this tournament. Undoubtedly he would be the person India has to beware of.
India coach Igor Stimac has lamented his forward’s inability to convert scoring chances. “We need to improve our scoring with the opportunities we are creating. “It’s easy, if we do that, the games become a lot easier. Otherwise you have to suffer till the end, or even the end,” he said, still confident that his side can reach the final.
With football-crazy Maldives likely to play their 12th player on Wednesday, the onus is on Stimac and his men to avert the country’s worst football notoriety in a long time.