The other evening with the streetlights yet to get into their full glow and with the sun having set on the horizon of the Indian Ocean, we spotted a rally of around 200 jubilant bikers around the Male jetty – all with vuvuzelas — piercing, and welcoming dusk after Maldives had won their match against Sri Lanka.
The atmosphere and sentiment around Male revolves around the SAFF Championship. The giant posters around add to the common man’s interest, and whenever Maldives has played at the National Stadium so far, there has been a deafening sound, something which the Blue Tigers are aware of.
A day prior to India’s last group league match, 3,000 tickets have been put on sale for the public out of which 200 are for the away fans. As things stand now, the hosts need a draw from their last group stage match against India to earn a ticket to the final, while on the other hand, the Blue Tigers need a victory.
“The most important thing for us was to refresh our player’s legs and prepare them for the last group league match. The situation is a bit easier for Maldives as they need just a draw, and hence, it’s clear what we need to do in tomorrow’s (October 13) game,” Head Coach Igor Stimac stated at the official pre-match press conference.
“I am quite happy with the performances in our last 3 games – looking at the way we played, looking at the possession numbers. We dominated them and our goalkeeper wasn’t much disturbed. But there is an old problem which is following us and that’s converting chances. We cannot be dependent on just one player and need to be more confident in front of goal,” Stimac averred.
India have so far scored two goals in the tournament, both of which have been scored by Sunil Chhetri, who now has 77 International goals to his name.
“We are going to witness tomorrow two great veterans on the pitch – Ali Ashfaq on one side, and Sunil Chhetri on the other. It’s a joy to watch them play, and if they were playing in the same team, it would have been a great combination for any coach,” Stimac smiled.
Jeakson Singh stated that the win against Nepal came in as a “big relief.”
“The mood of the camp is much better. We got three points which was immensely important. We did well in the last match, and intend to carry the positive thoughts from that match in our last group league match,” Jeakson maintained at the official pre-match press conference.
Stimac added: “The best motivation is to win games. It wasn’t easy to have two back-to-back draws in the first two games. Hence, it was a kind of a relief for all the players to beat Nepal. They needed confidence. In fact, they deserved to win all the three games but in football, you cannot win unless you score goals.”
Maldives too didn’t have the best of starts in the tournament as they had lost to Nepal by a solitary goal in their opener. But thereafter, they overcame Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
“Maldives are a much-improved team. They are more compact than they were before. They stress more on passing and possession-based football. They are creating chances, and their movements are great up front,” Stimac explained.
“There is a reasonable understanding between Ashfaq and others. They know how to move when Ashfaq has the ball, and he knows where they are running without even looking at them. But how they are going to play also depends on us – as to how much we let them play. If my midfielders and defenders do what I expect them to do, Maldives shouldn’t be able to play much.”