“It’s still not over as yet. We have just won a semifinal; nothing more than that. The Big Match awaits us. We are yet to win it,” is what Sunil Chhetri as he was greeted by fans after India’s game against Maldives.
But aren’t India the favourites in the final? Chhetri shook his head again. “I told you, we haven’t won anything as yet. All the good work can go in vain in the next 90 minutes. We shouldn’t be so elated,” he quipped as he signed another little one’s autograph book. You ought to appreciate what he said.
You walk away trying to reflect on the final. On paper, India should have it easy. But on the field, Afghanistan threaten to steal a leaf out of India’s book. For a country torn by troubles and where the sound of gun-shots are common even to a six-month old, this bunch of Men from Afghanistan need to be appreciated too.
Football stays their solace as was evident in their celebrations after reaching the final. No football pundit would have ever advocated such wild celebrations after a semifinal victory — that too after a solitary goal win in extra time. It drains out the players further, they would argue.
Far away from being at their best in their opening encounter against Afghanistan, the Indians have improved with every match. “That was a different match; this will be a different match,” echoed Syed Rahim who tapped in India’s opening goal against Maldives in the semifinal. “But we cannot take anything for granted.”
On paper, the nucleus of this bunch have won India two successive Nehru Cups and the AFC Challenge Cup to take India to the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years, wherein much stronger sides crossed their path. But significantly enough, not all were as passionate as this Afghan bunch; they stay on the brink of making International Headlines in the next 90 minutes.
Team India Coach Savio Medeira stayed cautious as ever. “We know they are dangerous. They have some very good players,” he maintained.
Sunil Chhetri’s gesture to Rahim Nabi Immediately after India had booked their ticket to the final, sums up the spirit in the Indian camp. As the two posed for photographers at the team bench, Chhetri, who had just received his fourth consecutive Man-of-the-match medal, wrapped the medal around Nabi’s neck. ‘It’s a team game,’ stayed the sentiment. Standing near you could hear all what the players said as they congratulated each other. “Beware, we haven’t won the Championship as yet.”
The kick-off on December 11 is at 6pm at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
INDIA VS MALDIVES – HEAD TO HEAD
Total Matches: 13
India Won: 10
Afghanistan Won: 1
Goals scored by India: 26
Goals scored by Afghanistan: 6
Last Meeting in a SAFF Championship:
December 2, 2011:
India 1 (Sunil Chhetri) d/w Afghanistan 1 (Belal Arezo)
Biggest margin of victory:
January 12, 2003 (SAFF Cup Group League match):
India 4 (Ashim Biswas – brace; Alvito D’Cunha – brace)
Sole victory for Afghanistan:
January 29, 2010 (Dhaka SAFF Games):
Afghanistan 1 (Belal Arezo)