SAFF Championship: India look to justify favourites tag as campaign against Bangladesh kickstarted

Sunil Chhetri in action against Bangladeshi players during their World Cup qualifier I PTI

Male: When it comes to the South Asian Football Federation Football (SAFF) Championship, no other team has enjoyed success as much as India.

Having emerged triumphant in seven out of 12 editions in the competition, the Blue Tigers have dominated the competition more than any other nation. They will be looking to build on that record as they lock horns with Bangladesh in their opening game at the National Football Stadium, Maldives, on Monday.

The five-nation tournament began on Friday with India's rivals Bangladesh beating Sri Lanka while Nepal stunned hosts Maldives later on in the day. While India will be expected to go all the way given their record in the competition, it's been six years since they last won the trophy. They finished runners up in the 2018 edition with an Under-23 side but they have opted for the full-strength squad this time out.

Head coach Igor Stimac stated the championship would help them prepare for the third round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, starting in February next year.

"We are going to try to use this tournament to improve a few more things, give experience to youngsters and try to win it," he said.

"What we have been trying to do for the last two years is to start thinking only about ourselves and not to change our game with regards to our opponents. It's not easy but it should be when we enter the third round of the qualifiers where we face different teams. The SAFF Cup puts us in the favourite position to win the tournament and we will justify it."

During the last meeting between the two sides in June, India edged Bangladesh 2-0 in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. But with a new head coach in Oscar Bruzon, Jamal Bhuyan & Co will be hoping to turn things around.

Chhetri stressed his side can't afford to be anything below their best with other teams in the South Asian region having improved over the years.

"Every game is going to be a war and a fight for our technicalities and our superiority. This is something none of us are mistaken about and we are going to take it seriously," Chhetri said.


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