Pre-tournament favourite Maldives reached the final when Bangladesh hosted the event last time in 2009 and they were semi-finalists in last three editions, but the struggling side needs to solve their issues for further progression in this edition
Nepal, one of the brightest performers in the group stage, were buzzing with confidence to make it into the semi-finals of the Saff Championship for the first time in history.
The confident outfit will take on four-time finalist Maldives side who have underperformed so far, in the first semi-final at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Wednesday at 4pm.
Maldives, who remained goalless in both their group games, reached the semi-final thanks to a coin-toss.
They seem to be struggling with on-and off-the-field issues.
Their coach Petar Segrt is under fire for his team selection as he has axed experienced players like Ali Ashfaq and Mohammad Umair, while his side’s lacklustre performances have aggravating his woes.
In contrast, former national striker Bal Gopal Maharjan’s Nepal side has been heaped with praise and termed as the new favourites apart from the other title contenders after their performances in the last two matches, including the one against an in-form home side.
Keeping the recent results aside, Nepal can also take inspiration from their Olympic team’s dramatic 4-3 win over Maldives in the South Asian Games 2016 semi-final, and also the win in the same stage of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup the same year, despite the fact that they have never won against the same side in seven meetings at the Saff Championship.
Gopal wanted to scribe a new chapter in the history of his country’s football.
“We had never played in the final before, I hope [Wednesday] will be a new starting in Nepal football, and also for Nepalese players. [Wednesday] will be a next story.”
But he, along with Nepalese captain Biraj Maharjan, also reminded that they are confident but at the same time, keeping their feet on the ground.
Gopal continued, “We all are confident but not over confident. We are improving day-by-day as individuals, and also as a team. I hope the players will be giving the performance to reach the vision.”
Nepal’s confidence also came from the strength and the depth of their squad.
Midfielder Sunil Bal made significant contributions in the last two matches after being absent from the starting XI in the first match against Pakistan.
Nawayug Sreshtha got his goal scoring form back by netting one against Bangladesh after coming off the bench.
Pre-tournament favourite Maldives reached the final when Bangladesh hosted the event last time in 2009 and they were semi-finalists in last three editions, but the struggling side needs to solve their issues for further progression in this edition.
The internal conflicts off the pitch had its reflection on Segrt’s opening speech at the pre-match presser but Croatia-born German coach, taking the responsibility on his shoulders, urged every Maldivian to get united before the semi-final.
“Nepal are a very strong team. They play very compact, they played very speedy, they got in the attacking box and they try to score goals. So we must try our best to tackle this. We will try to do our best. We will play like this is the tournament final, against Nepal,” said Segrt.
Segrt is also well aware that luck might not help them out this time around if they don’t get the goals.
“It is not easy to score goals but it’s also not possible for us to come with luck in this tournament and expect to play the final. So we need much more than luck [today].”
Meanwhile, the two sides had their lone training session at the Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited ground yesterday morning.