Maldives' under-fire coach Petar Segrt said it would be eleven versus eleven when his team take on seven-time champions and favourites India in the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup today.
While addressing media in the pre-final press conference at the BFF House yesterday, the Croatia-born German also said that his team would turn up with a performance similar to that against Nepal and not the group-match performances.
Maldives struggled through the group stages and only made it to the semifinal by dint of coin toss to deny Sri Lanka after collecting a single point from their two group matches. The coach was lambasted by the Maldives media, who also made claims of a rebellion following such insipid performances. However, the Islanders turned on the style as they dispatched on-form Nepal 3-0 in the semifinals to set up the final clash against the defending champions.
“We have only 300,000 people in Maldives with only 375 registered footballers. India has a population of 1.3 billion or more. But on the pitch tomorrow it will be 11 Maldivians playing against 11 Indians,” Segrt said.
Segrt would be looking to rewrite history against India as he was on the losing side, not only during the group stages of this edition, but also in the final of the previous edition when he was in charge of Afghanistan.
“In the semifinal against Nepal we showed a different face from the group stages and I believe we will show this face again in the final. Tomorrow will be a difficult game, but we hope we can cause some sensation,” said the 52-year-old, urging Bangladeshi people to cheer for his side as the 'smaller team' in the final.
India's long-serving coach Stephen Constantine gave the opposition respect, but was confident that his young charges can defend the title that Sunil Chhetri and Co. had regained from Afghanistan two years ago at home.
“I have said before that we didn't come here to lose. We came here only to win the tournament. I think we have played well enough and we deserve to be in the final,” said the Englishman while trying to vindicate the decision to field an under-23 team in this competition.
India enjoy a dominance over Maldives as well as any other team in the South Asian region as far as history is concerned. The blue shirts met the Maldivians three times in the final of the competition, winning twice and losing once. More importantly, the last time the two teams met in the final in Dhaka, India had fielded an under-23 side, yet ran out 3-1 winners in the penalty shootout. The players may not be the same this time, but his young brigade will have the last laugh yet again, hoped Constantine.
“We have a good record against Sri Lanka and Maldives. It's not the same teams. We beat them in the group stage but this is the final and you know anything can happen in the final. They will work hard, we will work hard. Hopefully we win,” he said.