The South Asian Football Federation Championship famous as the “World Cup for south Asian nations“ throughout the region. The 7th edition of the event worth $50,000 to the winners is being hosted by India for the second time.
It is the only football tournament in which India face the same pressure as Brazil do in each World Cup. Five times champions India are not only expected to win but also win in style.
Geographically, economically and in terms of football development, India are the dominating force in this region. Graham Roberts, the former Chelsea and Glasgow Rangers defender, who is coaching Nepal, said that his team travelled to Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand to play practice matches as infrastructure in the hill kingdom is disastrous and the pitches muddy and atrocious. Five of the participating nations have foreign coaches and all unanimously praised the lush green Nehru Stadium surface. So not only in playing standards but also as regards football infrastructure, India is a seen as a giant.
India are the undisputed kings of football in this region, winning the title in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2005 and 2009. So both history and home conditions make India overwhelming favourites for the title, even though Bangladesh (142) and Nepal (143) are ranked higher in the Fifa rankings list. India have slipped to 162 in the Fifa rankings.
Incidentally India’s coach Savio Madeira was a member of the 1997 squad that won the Saff title in Kathmandu. If India win again, Madeira will be the first to have won the cham
pionship as both player and coach. Retired skipper Baichung Bhutia has won this title thrice, the maximum ever. In 1999 India coached by Sukhwinder Singh, won comfortably with defender Deepak Mondal making a dream debut. India also won in 2009, fielding a U-23 team and creditably some players from that squad, like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jewel Raja Sheikh, Lalrindika Ralte and Nirmal Chettri have graduated to the senior team. With a full strength side playing here, India will be chastised if they fail to win the title. A lot will depend on how the newlook strike force of Lalpekhlua and Sunil Chettri combines and gets goals in the matches.
The organisers had contemplated the Ambedkar Stadium as the venue to ensure near capacity crowds as the seating capacity there is about 18,000. The stadium is also a happy hunting ground with India having won three titles in a row from
2007 to 2009.
However with Pakistan participating, police over-ruled this idea for security reasons and so the revamped Nehru stadium became the venue.
The Saff Championship is held biannually to promote the development of football in south Asia. Launched at Lahore’s Railway Stadium in 1993 as the SAARC Gold Cup; since 1997 it is known as the Saff Championship.