Nepal take on Maldives in SAFF U-18 Championship match todayThe hosts are the only team to have won the title, having won both the previous two editions of the biennial age-group tournament.
Nepal open their title defence of the SAFF U-18 Championships with a match against Maldives at the APF grounds in Halchowk on Friday.
Having won both the previous editions, Nepal look to start their campaign with a win in their bid to complete a three-peat success. South Asian football giants India will also be aiming to end the trophy drought at the age-group tournament since the biennial tournament began in 2015. India are yet to win U-18 men's tournament having lifted all other trophies of the SAFF region at least once. Not only Nepal and India but the remaining four teams are all confident of their team this time around.
Apart from Nepal and Maldives, Bhutan are the other team in Group 'A'. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are placed in Group 'B'. The winners and the runners-up from each of the two groups will advance to the semi-finals. Nepal captain Jaya Gurung said they were looking for nothing less than the title. "As we are the defending champions and playing at home turf, we will be aiming to complete the hat-trick of title," said Gurung. "Considering the improvement and home advantage, we are confident of achieving our target."
Nepal coach Chet Narayan Shrestha was optimistic of winning group stage matches against Maldives and Bhutan considering the past outcomes. "The challenge is to win the title because every team are equally strong. But we have prepared well for this event and hope to go all the way to winning the title yet again," said Shrestha whose team is filled with the majority of players having the experience of playing top-tier league. Shrestha said he has a balanced squad with a strong midfield and sharp striking lineup. He considers Nepal and India as the tournament favourites.
"We will adopt an offensive style of play as scoring is always to success," said Shrestha making his intent clear for Maldives clash. The two sides have played only once in the age-group tournament which came during the last edition in Bhutan. Nepal won that game 2-0. The Nepali team has been training for the last one-and-a-half and played weekend friendly matches against top-tier teams during that period. "The performance in those friendlies against the 'A' division teams was very encouraging," he said.
Maldives coach Shazly Mohumed was also happy with his team’s preparation leading up to the tournament. The team arrived here from Qatar after friendly matches as well as a preparatory camp in the Gulf nation. Speaking about the group, he said both Nepal and Bhutan were tough opponents. "Our target is to win not just the group stage matches but the final as well," said Mohumed, adding that the presence of senior national team member Hasan Nazeem as captain has been a big boost for his team.
India coach Floyd Pinto said that his team would do their best to win the trophy this time. India will start their campaign against Bangladesh on September 23. "It’s all down to how our opening match goes. But we have a fine preparation and had good match exposure before arriving to Nepal," he said adding that the tournament was not easy and past experience has indicated that every team were equally tough.
Bangladesh coach Andrew Peter Turner, who has been overseeing his team’s preparation for the last five weeks, said they had worked a lot on the tactical aspects. He also said his team were very motivated to perform well this time. "Each team wants to win the trophy and we are not an exception,” he said.
Bhutan coach Ugyen Dorji said that his side was positive putting on a good performance and finally lift the title. "Although we have a tough opening match against the hosts (Sept 22) and the Maldives, we are ready to take on the challenge," he said.
Sri Lanka coach MM Amanulla said that his team was in good shape and capable of giving a tough fight to both the opponents including India and Bangladesh. "We have played some friendly matches and hopefully the team will give a tough fight."