Nepal and Pakistan are looking forward to making it to their maiden final appearances in the regional football extravaganza when they take on Maldives and India respectively in the semifinals of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Bangbandhu National Stadium today.
Pakistan and India will renew their rivalry in the second semifinal at 7:30pm after Nepal and Maldives play the first one at 4:00pm, with Channel 9 telecasting both matches live from the venue.
Nepal and Pakistan have never crossed the last four hurdle in their previous four and three attempts respectively, but this time both teams put up some good performances in group-stage matches to raise their hopes of reaching the stage for the first time.
Nevertheless, the task is not going to be easy for either side as Pakistan face ten-time finalists and seven-time champions India, who hold a 14-3 head-to-head advantage over their bitter rivals.
Pakistan had to quit from the title race in their first-ever semifinal attempt when they lost to India 2-0 in 1997 before being knocked out by Maldives and Bangladesh in their following two semifinals during the 2003 and 2005 editions respectively.
Nepal, on the other hand, will meet four-time finalists and one-time champions Maldives, who shattered their dreams in the 1999 edition, beating them 2-0 in the semifinals. Nepal were also beaten by Sri Lanka in 1995 and Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013 -- all in semifinals.
After 18 years, it is again Maldives, who will have an edge over Nepal (seven wins, four draws and four losses). However, the Islanders had to depend on the luck of a coin toss to qualify for the last four after collecting only a point from their two matches, having failed to score a single goal.
Nepal, on the other hand, have scored seven goals in three matches and collected six points.
“We are in good condition and came into the knockout stage after proving our worth in the group stages. We have played two semifinals against Maldives and beat them on both occasions in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup and the SA Games football event in 2016. And I am really hopeful that the boys will play their own game to create a new history for Nepal tomorrow,” Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan said at a pre-match conference.
Maharjan's counterpart Maldives coach Petar Segrt was, however, lambasted for his side's poor performance following their goalless draw against Sri Lanka and the 2-0 defeat against India. The German blamed the Maldivian media for creating confusion between the coach and the players.
“The players were asked whether my assistant coach will take over and face the media today, but I am still the coach of Maldives. Please don't make any confusion among the players and the Maldivian people. I take all the responsibility for my players,” Segrt said. “Nepal are a strong team and we will try to do our best because we came here to play in the final.”
The focus, however, will be on the India-Pakistan match and Pakistan coach Jose Antonio Nogueira will need to prepare a plan to stop a youthful and spirited India.
“I am very excited that we have reached the semifinals. Tomorrow is the day we want to qualify for the final by any means,” Nogueira said. “India are a very synchronised team and play very fast but we will try our best.”
India manager Venkatesh Shanmugam said, “India and Pakistan are serious rivals. Pakistan are physically strong. They have good players. It will be a difficult match. We hope to come up with a good result.”