The Indian senior men’s team is set to take on Nepal in their second Group A match of the SAFF Championship at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. They will be looking to secure a spot in the semi-finals by registering a win on Saturday.
If India win and Kuwait either win or draw against Pakistan, the Blue Tigers will advance to the semis with a match to spare in the group stage.
In their previous game, India convincingly defeated Pakistan 4-0, with Sunil Chhetri scoring a hat-trick and Udanta Singh adding a late goal. Despite the success, head coach Igor Stimac has urged the team to move on from that match.
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Stimac was sent off during added time in the first half of the Pakistan game for delaying a quick throw-in, but he stands by his decision, emphasizing that it was done in the best interest of the team.
Having faced Nepal four times under Stimac’s leadership (with three wins and one draw), India has a favourable record against their upcoming opponents. Their most recent encounter was in the 2021 SAFF Championship Final in Male, where India clinched their record-extending eighth title with a convincing 3-0 victory, courtesy of goals from Sunil Chhetri, Suresh Singh Wangjam, and Sahal Abdul Samad.
However, Stimac acknowledges that Nepal has undergone significant changes under their new head coach, Vincenzo Alberto Annese. Annese led Gokulam Kerala to back-to-back I-League titles in 2021 and 2022. Despite India’s familiarity and success against Nepal in the past, Stimac expects a tough challenge from the revamped Nepalese side.
Nepal suffered a 1-3 defeat to Kuwait in their opening game, with Anjan Bista, who played for Mumbai Kenkre in the previous I-League season, scoring their consolation goal. A loss against India, combined with a Pakistan loss to Kuwait, would eliminate Nepal from the tournament. However, Annese is solely focused on the daunting task of facing the host nation in the upcoming match.