India would be looking for a revenge of their last edition defeat but coach Stephen Constantine said defending champions Afghanistan would start as favourites in SAFF Cup summit clash as they have more foreign-based players than his side.
“Afghanistan are the favourites because they have 15 players who play mostly in Europe. There is a huge gap between Asian and European players,” Constantine said at the match-eve press conference.
“In fact, after the match against Guam (in 2018 World Cup qualifiers) almost all had raised eyebrows saying how we lose to a country who has a population of 90000 people. But what all did not realise that it was a team comprising of US-based players.
“But we will be playing at home and I hope the fans cheer behind us and we can use it as an advantage,” Constantine added.
Six-time champions India had lost to Afghanistan 0-2 in the 2013 final in Kathmandu. In the earlier edition in 2011, India had beaten Afghanistan 4-0 at home.
This edition, India have been on a roll having convincingly beaten all their opponents en route to the final but Constantine said the summit clash would be a difficult game.
“It’s hard to predict as to which area the match would be decided. It will be decided on all parts of the field. It is going to be a very difficult game. They are a team who can score goals and we need to be careful,” he said.
He said India ill-afford to lose the momentum in the second half as they did against Maldives in the semifinals.
“In football, when you are in control of the game you tend to become a bit sloppy. That’s what happened in the semifinal. And if that happens in the final, we will have to pay the price,” he said.
“Obviously with such a young squad and with such little time to prepare in the championship, it feels nice to be in the final. We took each game as it came. I want the players in the team to feel competition from who are not in the squad. We now have a group of Players who fight and compete for positions,” said Constantine.
Asked if India can beat Afghanistan tomorrow, Constantine said, “They are a very good side. We will fight form the first to the last minute. If we play at our best and they don’t have a good day, we can win.”
Asked about the importance of captain Sunil Chhetri’s role, the Briton said he will not pinpoint a single player and the team will have to play as a unit.
“Sunil (Chhetri) is an important player as is Pritam Kotal, Narayan Das, Arnab Mondal, Augustine Fernandes and all the others including the substitutes,” he said.
“One is useless without the other. If Sunil plays well and others don’t, he won’t get much of the ball. Sunil is a great captain and leader but I never focus on one player.”
Afghanistan coach Peter Segrt said that what matters would be to win tomorrow’s final and the impressive run in the group stage will have no bearing on it.
“This is what matters. The final is what matters. Nobody cares if we won all our games in the group stages. It will be a new day for both the teams. The final is what we came for and we have to win it for the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
He said his players will have to be focused and give their 100 per cent if they want to beat India tomorrow.
“Indian team is very strong. They will make it difficult for us. They have the players to do so and the crowd will be also cheering for them. We will not take them lightly,” said the German.
“I saw work rate of Indian players and it’s tremendous. They will give us a hard time on the pitch without a shadow of doubt. They are compact and have a very good coach who knows how to run proceedings. If we have to win tomorrow against India, we need to be focused and will have to give out cent percent on the pitch.”