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SAFF Championship 2023: India look to win against Nepal and move closer to semis


After starting their campaign with a decisive 4-0 win over Pakistan, India will be looking to move closer to the semi-finals of the SAAFF Championship as they face Nepal here on Saturday.

In previous matches played between India and Nepal, the hosts have performed better, evidenced by their overall head-to-head record of 16-2 in 23 matches, a streak that began in the 1985 SAF Games.

The two teams last faced each other during the 2021 SAFF Championship when India beat Nepal 3-0.

As far as the SAFF tournament is concerned, India have a dominant record of 6-2 from nine matches. Even the recent forms of both the teams show Indian dominance.

India entered the SAFF Championship on the back of their 2-0 win over Lebanon in the Inter-territorial Cup final in Odisha.

The Blue Tigers carried that confidence into their opener here at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, turning on the back burner to hammer Pakistan 4-0 with captain Sunil Chhetri’s hat-trick sealing the victory.

Also Read: Analysis: How did each player perform against Pakistan in SAFF Championship 2023 opener?

India will be without the services of head coach Igor Stimac after he was shown the red card in India’s 4-0 win over Pakistan in their ill-fated opener. Assistant coach Mahesh Gawli will lead the team at the dugout.

Nepal had a difficult start to their campaign as they went down 1-3 against Kuwait in their opening game. A positive result against India, as tough as it may be, is mandatory for them to stay alive in the SAFF competition.

However, India will have to guard against complacency as Nepal have the wherewithal to spring a surprise. 31-year-old Nepalese midfielder Rohit Chand, who plays in the Indonesian League, and forward Anjan Bista could be surprise packages.

Moreover, Nepali coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese is very familiar with Indian football as he was the manager of Gokulam Kerala FC who won the I-League.

The Indian camp is well aware of Nepal’s might and assistant coach Mahesh Gawli has warned his team not to let their guard down on the Gorkhalis.

“They (Nepal) are a good side and they played a very good game against Kuwait as you all saw. It will be a very tough game for us,” Gawli said after the match against Pakistan.

But, India has made progress under the head coach Igor Stimac. Defense has been India’s Achilles heel in the past but they have now managed to keep a clean sheet in the last seven games, a record for Stimac. The experienced Sandesh Jingan also seemed to come into his elements.

Gawli wanted the team to build on him, and expressed satisfaction with the visible improvement. He attributed it to the cohesion of the unit.

“I think it’s because of how we practice in training. We like to keep things simple and they are doing it. And they’ve been playing together for a long time and it’s helped them improve,” he said.

Now, it is time for India to add another brick to that process.

Saturday’s Games:

Pakistan vs Kuwait – 3.30 PM IST

India vs Nepal – 7.30 pm IST

(With PTI inputs)

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