Earlier this week, we gave you a quick rundown of the upcoming SAFF Championships being held in Kathmandu, Nepal from August 31st to September 11th. Available in that preview are our odds of how each group will turn out, as well as the favorites to reach the title match.
Let’s take a deeper look at the games, specifically match day 1, to see how we arrived at those projections.
Nepal v Bangladesh – August 31st
If you had to pick a match up to open the SAFF Championship, this would absolutely be the fixture to choose. There is some recent history between these two nations. Back in early March, Nepal played host to Group D of the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers. Also in this group was Bangladesh. They met in a crucial match day 2 fixture which would play a huge part in determining the second place finisher in the group. The loser of the match would essentially be eliminated. Bangladesh would defeat Nepal 2-0 on that day, with the help of a penalty decision that many Nepalese supporters still consider unjust.
Bangladesh would go on to finish second the group and seemingly qualify for the Challenge Cup finals until Brunei withdrew at the 11th hour. Brunei’s withdrawal caused the AFC to recalculate the second place standings and ended up eliminating Bangladesh.
Both Nepal and Bangladesh will enter this match with much to prove. Nepal will be looking to avenge the prior 2-0 defeat, while Bangladesh will almost certainly be looking to erase the memories of the Challenge Cup. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. 19,000 turned out for their last meeting in March. All signs are pointing to a packed house on Saturday.
Prediction: Bangladesh by 1
India v Pakistan – September 1st
Good thing SAFF decided to wait a day after the opener to play this one. After the dust settles from the opener, India and Pakistan will take center stage. Both nations are coming off disastrous Challenge Cup campaigns.
India had it all to play for going into their final qualifying match against Myanmar. They led the group on 6 points and had only conceded once in two matches. The Blue Tigers inexplicably came out lame against hosts Myanmar and would go on to drop a crucial 3 points in a 1-0 loss. In that loss, India conceded the group to Myanmar and would be eliminated via the second place table.
Pakistan had a rough go of it in their Challenge Cup campaign. They opened with consecutive 1-0 losses to Tajikistan and hosts Kyrgyzstan and were swiftly eliminated. Pakistan ended the campaign on a high note at least, brushing aside Macau 2-0.
However, in their only warm up match for the SAFF Championship, Pakistan were comprehensively beat by Afghanistan 3-0 in Kabul on August 20th. The Pakistani FA wasted little time in dismissing Serbian head coach Zaviša Milosavljević, leaving the team with little time to prepare under their new manager. It should make for a very intriguing game come September 1.
As with the first match, both teams will be anxious to take the pitch and leave their Challenge Cup failures behind them.
Afghanistan v Bhutan – September 2nd
According to our rankings, this is the most lopsided matchup in the group stage. We currently have Afghanistan ranked #132 and Bhutan ranked #215. That alone should be enough to tell you what we think the outcome will be, but let’s review.
Afghanistan is enjoying some fine run of form recently. They successfully navigated a very tricky Challenge Cup qualifying group in Laos. They went unbeaten and only conceded once, thus qualifying for their first Challenge Cup since 2008. They’ve also seemed to hit their stride in a warm up match with Pakistan that we discussed earlier. One important note about that game: it was their first home match in over 10 years. What a great way to get everyone hyped up for the national team and an even better send off for the team.
Bhutan, on the other hand, rarely play matches. They were non-entrants in the Challenge Cup this time around. Their last game was a 5-0 defeat in Thailand back in November 2012. While the Bhutan XI are a complete mystery to the world, it should be safe to say they won’t pull any surprises here. It should be noted that their only taste of international success came on this stage back in 2008. They made a run to the semi-finals only to fall to India in extra time.
Prediction: Afghanistan by 3
Maldives v Sri Lanka – September 2nd
This is an intriguing matchup of two island nations! And even better, it could be pivotal in determining who advances from the group with Afghanistan.
The Maldives squad is under a bit of turmoil at the moment. Their manager Ibrahim Amir has resigned from the position amidst controversy regarding two players missing curfew in their Thailand warm-up camp. It is unclear as to what happened, or where the difference in opinion lies, but it is inherently clear that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the reason for the missed curfew.
The Red Snappers haven’t played a competitive match since they hosted Pakistan for two matches in February. Their warm-up camp in Thailand featured two scrimmages against local sides. They were victorious in their first match against Osotspa from Thailand Premier League, but dropped the second match against the Thailand U19 national team.
Sri Lanka also have gone many months without playing a competitive match. They haven’t taken the pitch since their Challenge Cup elimination in March. They narrowly lost to Afghanistan 1-0, dropped the second match to Laos 4-2, but ended high with a 3-0 win over Mongolia.
Just like the Maldives, their SAFF warm-up consisted of a tour of Thailand. Their warm-up friendlies include a 5-1 drubbing to an unconfirmed Hong Kong club team, a 2-0 win over the Thailand U20 team, and a 3-0 win over the Thailand Army Team. While the results are meaningless, two consecutive clean-sheets has to do something for their confidence heading into the tournament.
When we examine Sri Lanka’s international successes, there is a common denominator: those tournaments were hosted by Sri Lanka. If there is a time to write history, this is it. They have a weak opponent in Bhutan, and with a good showing against Maldives, they could find themselves in the semi-finals come September 8th.
Sri Lanka: WLLLL
Prediction: Maldives by 1
We hope you enjoyed this run-down of the upcoming SAFF matchday 1 games. Please continue to check back for updates on how the tournament is progressing. As always, we’ll give you a complete analysis of where the teams stand with odds of advancing!
Thanks for reading!