Hosts Nepal stand in India’s way


Listless so far in the tournament, defending champions India take on hosts Nepal in their last group match with a semi-final berth at stake in the Saff football championships here.
India need a draw from the Thursday’s Group A match at the Dasarath Stadium to qualify for the semi-finals. But with the lacklustre performance they have dished out so far, it will not be easy for Wim Koevermans’ men to achieve against a team, who will have overwhelming crowd support.
Having opened their campaign by scraping past Pakistan who gifted a goal and then almost being beaten by Bangladesh before managing a last-gasp equaliser on Tuesday, India have never looked like a team who can defend their title.
The group is wide open and all four teams have a chance to make it to the semis after playing two matches each. Nepal and India are on four points with a goal difference of plus two and plus one respectively while Pakistan and Bangladesh are on one point with minus one and minus two goal difference respectively.
Even if India lose on Thursday, they will still qualify for the semi-finals, if Pakistan beat Bangladesh in the other group match which will be played simultaneously.
This is so because India had beaten Pakistan and the head-to-head result will be considered first in case their is a tie between two teams. If India lose to Nepal on Thursday without scoring a goal and Bangladesh beat Pakistan by a margin of two goals, then India will be out of the tournament.
India will, however, begin as favourites as they have won nine out of 11 matches against Nepal. Two matches were drawn.
Koevermans knows the impact the crowd support can have on a team but said his players are raring to go.
“Across the world, a packed stadium defines football. The atmosphere at the Dasrath Stadium is just wonderful. Obviously the home support will be an extra help for Nepal. But that’s how it goes,” Koevermans said after the team’s training session on Tuesday.
“We are ready. It will be a tough match and though there are a lot of equations involved, we are not getting into it,” said the Dutchman.
The coach though was not happy with the scheduling of the tournament.
“Playing every alternate day will have its effect. Players often carry that fatigue into the next match and the energy tank gets empty. But the medical team is working 24x7,” he said.

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