September 29, 2021 3:15:45 pm
Seven-time champions India have declared their intention to wrest the prestigious regional tournament South Asian Football Federation beginning Male, the Madives from October 1 (Friday). India open their campaign with the opener against Bangladesh at National Football Stadium on October 4.
The bus team ride to the hotel from airport aboard the speed boat– the sole mode of communication in the island nation, which took 40 minute might have given enough discomfort to the 23-member team.
However, the likes of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, captain Sunil Chhetri and others shrugged off as they have been to the island to complete the club duties last month.
“The weather is good right now and hopefully, we will make the nation proud, and give them something to cheer about,” vowed the Indian custodian. “We are ready and have been playing some football which is good. We hope to carry the momentum and reach the final on October 16,” he told the-aiff.com on Wednesday.
The unusual number of international tourists enjoying their vacation within a bubble at the team hotel pleasantly surprised midfielder Anirudh Thapa.
“It’s so nice to see families out on a holiday while adhering to all the health parameters. That’s something which has been quite unheard of since the last 19 months,” quipped Anirudh Thapa. “But we are not on a vacation. We have a task at hand, and it’s a tough one. Football is what we are here for. For us, the vacation can wait,” Thapa added.
The contingent including the national head coach, support staff underwent an RT-PCR test before leaving Bengaluru and on arrival at the hotel.
Indians have lifted the SAFF Championship (formerly SAARC Cup) seven times: 1993 (Lahore), 1997 (Kathmandu), 1999 (Margao), 2005 (Karachi), 2009 (it was a competition for under-23 squads in Dhaka), 2011 (New Delhi), 2016 (Thiruvananthapuram).
The team trained at the Football Association of Maldives artificial training pitch but the travel between the team hotel and the venue will be on the speedboat. “The boat rides will be a common feature for us in the next two weeks,” said Rahul Bheke. “This is my first SAFF Championship, and I want to make it a memorable one. The quality in our side is unmistakable. We have played seven International matches since March, and looking back, we ask ourselves as to how many teams have played that much during the pandemic. We are here to make our mark, and I will prefer to take it day by day,” said the defender.
National football head coach Igor Stimac joined the team directly in Maldives.
“We’are excited and we expect them to do well and go all the way through winning the tournament,” Stimac told the-aiff.com. “For some of them it is going to be a bit more difficult to shine as their clubs still haven’t started the pre-season yet. But we are very confident that each one of them will give their best,” he added.
“It feels great to be here. It’s truly an extraordinary effort that has been put in. Given the current situation it’s extremely difficult to organise matches, leave aside an entire tournament. I wish the entire organising committee, the Maldives FA, and the Government of Maldives all the very best for the Championship. I understand it’s a humongous task, and hope everyone stays safe for us to have a cracker of a tournament,” captain Sunil said.
“Since my childhood I have heard so many anecdotes about the SAFF Championship. Hence, it’s a different feeling for me to be in the squad for this edition. We understand that the next two weeks will be extremely tough and there will be some very close matches. The entire squad is up to the challenge,” midfielder Brandon Fernandes said.
The team will be inside a secured bio bubble all throughout the tournament. The weather forecast predicts cloudy skies with isolated thunderstorms for the next few days.
October 4: vs Bangladesh (IST 4.30 pm).
October 7: vs Sri Lanka (IST 4.30 pm).
October 10: vs India (IST 8.30 pm).
October 13: vs Maldives (IST 8.30 pm).
GOALKEEPERS: Gurpreet Singh, Vishal Kaith, Dheeraj Singh.
DEFENDERS: Pritam Kotal, Seriton Fernandes, Chinglensana Singh, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Mandar Rao Dessai.
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.
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