India favourite in SAFF Ch’ship opener against Sri Lanka

Vastavam web: Defending champions India will start as overwhelming favourites against Sri Lanka in the opening encounter of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium here on Wednesday. The Indian team is essentially an U-23 one with the exception of striker Sumeet Passi but it is coming into the tournament with more than a month long preparation.

India, who are currently ranked 96 in the latest FIFA rankings, have been on the winning side 15 times against their neighbours out of the 22 face-offs so far. The Islanders’ noteworthy victory against India came in the final of 1995 SAFF Championship which was then named as South Asian Gold Cup. “Facing some of the good sides in this tournament would be a real challenge for us and this is the best scenario to test ourselves,” he added.

He said apart from Sunil Chhetri, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh, there were not many out-and-out strikers in India. “Then comes Farukh, Manvir, Passi who have minimal international experiences so far. We need more Indian strikers and these boys have shown their potential. Regarding Passi, he’ll have as much chance as anyone else to get into the AFC Asian Cup squad,” Constantine said. “There are no favourites once the match kicks-off and the better team will win eventually. It’s very crucial to start the campaign with a positive result and we’re up for it,” he said.

“It’s better to face India early in such a tournament rather facing them in the knock-out stage.” Notably, Sri Lanka could garner a 1-1 draw against Constantine-coached India in their final round-robin fixture of the 2003 SAFF Championship, which happened to be the first edition of the tournament staged in Bangladesh. “I am new to the team and I’m trying to get along with a new set of players. We are following the Sri Lanka Football Vision 2030 plan and I’m happy with the progress so far,” Ali said.