The Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu is all set for an exciting SAFF U19 Championship semi-final clash between India and hosts Nepal. India, with two victories in two matches, secured their place in the semi-finals as Group B winners, while Nepal finished second in Group A behind Pakistan.
India’s journey in the tournament started with a comfortable 3-0 win over Bangladesh. However, they faced a tougher challenge against Bhutan in their second match, coming from behind to secure a narrow 2-1 victory. Gwgwmsar Goyary scored his second goal of the tournament with a header, and Ricky Meetei Haobam finished off a well-executed corner routine with a solid first-time finish from outside the area. Despite the close scoreline, India dominated the game, especially in the second half, creating several scoring opportunities.
Head coach Shuvendu Panda expressed some reservations about the team’s performance but emphasized the importance of maintaining a perfect record in the group stage, particularly against a challenging opponent like Bhutan, who had previously eliminated Bangladesh.
“First of all, I am happy that we won the match and topped the group. But honestly, I am not happy as a coach because the way we had planned to play against Bhutan was not executed accordingly. People need to know that Bhutan is not a cake-walk team. They have been playing together for five to six years and the BFF Academy team also participates in the Bhutan Premier League,” stated Panda.
“Overall, the boys’ performance was good. We came here with the mindset to win all matches at any cost,” stated Panda.
India’s semi-final opponents Nepal went down 0-1 to Pakistan in their first match but produced a clutch performance in the do-or-die match against the Maldives on Monday, winning 4-1 commandingly. “As I have said earlier, each team in this championship are good, including Nepal. As the tournament progresses, every team get better and better. After losing the first match, they came back with a good victory. It will be a great match. As hosts, they have great support behind them from the fans. I believe it will be a wonderful game that people will really enjoy,” stated Panda.”
Nepal, on the other hand, secured their spot in the semi-finals with strong support from their home crowd, with nearly four thousand fans cheering them on to victory over the Maldives. Playing against Nepal’s passionate home supporters presents a unique challenge for India, but Coach Panda believes his team is capable of handling this pressure and delivering a strong performance.
The SAFF U19 Championship semi-final promises to be an exciting clash, with both teams aiming to secure a spot in the final. India will need to contend with Nepal’s enthusiastic fans as they look to advance in the tournament.
“I think it is going to be a new situation and environment for the players, and I hope they will do better because of their strong character. They are competent enough to deal with external factors like these, although it is not as easy as we think,” stated the coach.
Another factor Panda thinks his boys are well-prepared to work with is the less than 48 hours of recovery time before the semi-final. “We had planned for the semi-final well before the Bhutan game. It is always challenging for players to play with just one day of rest between games. However, we are quite prepared for the match. During our preparation in Bhubaneswar, we had considered all these factors also very meticulously,” explained Panda.
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