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India look to trounce Pak in semis today

DHAKA: Arch-rivals India and Pakistan will be up against each other on the football field when the two teams clash at the SAFF Cup semi-final on Wednesday in Dhaka.
The Indo-Pak rivalry has always been billed as the most sought-after sporting rivalries across the globe. A frenzy is witnessed amongst football fans of the two countries as after a prolonged gap of five years the arch-rivals will be meeting in an official match.Coach Stephen Constantine’s India U23 side topped the Group B after beating Maldives 2-0 in their final group game at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sunday (September 9).
India have won 18 of the 31 encounters against Pakistan so far with 5 having ended in a draw.
The last time the two teams had met in an official match was also in a SAFF Championship in Kathmandu in September 2013. India had won 1-0 on that occasion. After the 3-year-long suspension was lifted, Pakistan have played some impressive football in the Asian Games Jakarta 2018 before reaching Dhaka to compete in the SAFF Cup 2018. This is going to be only the fifth occasion when Pakistan have reached the last four in the SAFF Championship. The last instance when they achieved the feat was in 2005 which was hosted in Pakistan.
Head Coach José Antonio Nogueira who has taken over the reins of Pakistan Football Team after their long absence from International Football has set his focus to catch up with India in next 2-3 years and “overtake them (India) to claim the pole position in the SAFF region. Undoubtedly, India are the numero uno in the region. Coming back from a 3-year long hiatus, we are nowhere close to them. My first target is to close the gap in the next 2-3 years. We’ll then set the target to conquer the region,” Nogueira said. Pakistan meet India in the semi-finals of the SAFF Suzuki Cup on Wednesday (September 12) and Nogueira said that the team is eagerly looking forward to the match.
“It will be a great experience for me and my team when we play India in the semis,” Nogueira, who has earlier coached Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and St. Kitts and Nevis, smiles.
“We will gain some invaluable experience from those 90 minutes. India have achieved some major feats to reach the next level. I feel the experience which India gather playing against the opponents like Japan or maybe a South Korea, we’ll get against them (India).”
The coach seemed to follow Indian Football very closely and described the exposure tours to the Indian age-group National Teams as a “very positive development. India have laid down a blueprint and have worked relentlessly so far to execute it. Before the FIFA U17 World Cup, the team had travelled to Brazil for an exposure trip. Even the World Cup was so immaculately conducted,” he opined. “Arranging exposure trips for the age-group teams, playing quality opponents often are some of the good things which have happened to Indian Football recently. The upsurge in the FIFA Ranking is the perfect synergy of these efforts,” he maintained.
How much challenging is your present job?
“I knew this job will be a very challenging one but as a coach, it’s my duty to accept it. It was like of coming out from zero and restarting the system. Building a National team is not a magic. But the players have responded well so far.”
“We had the PFF Cup and 65 players were selected from there. Since then, we shortlisted 32 and flew to Jakarta to compete in the Asian Games. We had some really tough games against Japan, Vietnam before landing here,” he informed.
Former footballer Anadi Barua has said that India are favourites to emerge victorious against Pakistan in the semi-final of the ongoing the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. Barua, however, cautioned the Indian side to not take the Pakistan team lightly in the clash. Speaking to ANI, Barua said, “India has got a chance to win the semi-final clash but, at the same time, they should not take Pakistan lightly. Indian team is playing well and should win. The match will be tough both physically and morally but the Indian team is favourite to win.” Reflecting on the hype around the India-Pakistan match, Barua said that the game of football has so far been aloof from the pressure, adding that the match would be tough and competitive as both the sides have won 10 times each against each other in the tournament.
“We have been champions at the tournament seven times while Pakistan is yet to clinch the SAFF trophy. Head to head, both the teams have won 10 matches each against each other with three clashes ending in a draw. So, the match will be tough and competitive,” he added. (Agencies)

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