Nepal take on mighty India in SAFF Championship todayA victory over Stimac’s men will hand Almutairi’s team their first ever final in the sub-continental tournament.
Nepal could seal their place in the final of the SAFF Championship for the first time with a win over India on Sunday.
Nepal, who have won both matches, lie on top of the five-team table with six points. The top two finishers are guaranteed a place in the final. While a victory would guarantee Nepal a place in the final with a match in hand, even other results would keep Nepal in contention.
Bangladesh are second with four points after three matches while the Maldives are third with three points and India fourth on two points. Both India and Maldives have played two matches apiece. Sri Lanka are at the bottom of the table with one point and out of contention for the final. Maldives will take on Sri Lanka on the day's early kickoff.
Nepal, who defeated hosts and defending champions Maldives 1-0 in the opening game and Sri Lanka 3-2 in the second game, so far appear to be the favourites for the final. However, Nepal's Kuwaiti coach Addullah Almutairi has taken a cautious approach.
"Tomorrow will be a difficult game because India are the best team in the region and history suggests the same," Almutairi said of India, referring to the record seven titles the South Asian giants have won.
India, held to a 1-1 draw by Bangladesh and 0-0 draw by Sri Lanka, will be under pressure to defeat Nepal to strengthen their bid for the final.
"The stalemate against Sri Lanka was a big disappointment for us. We should have won that match by a big margin," India's Croatian coach Igor Stimac said.
"There is no time to regret. Nothing has changed in our commitment and target. We still have two matches to play and hopefully we will play a better team game," said the Croatian, who also praised Nepal’s performance at the championship.
Nepal's last win over India dates back to 2013 SAFF in Kathmandu when they beat their arch rivals 2-1. Since then, the two sides have met seven times. India have emerged victorious in five games while two matches have finished in draws. India had visited Nepal last month for a two-game international friendly. The first match ended in a 1-1 draw and the second finished 2-1 in favour of India.
While India are record champions, Nepal have yet to enter the final of the biennial tournament. Nepal's captain Kiran Kumar Limbu said that they would fight to achieve their dream of lifting their maiden trophy.
"SAFF is a dream for us and we are fighting to achieve our dream. It would definitely be a tough game and we need to move forward step by step. Though we are underdogs, we will fight until the final moments," said Limbu.
Coach Almutairi also warned Nepali supporters it would be too early to celebrate the team's success. "We should not celebrate now because we haven't reached the final yet. The Indian team are strong but we will fight against them. We respect them but we are not scared," he said.
Indian midfielder Brandon Fernandes conceded that the mood in their camp was low following two draws. "But we have to fight in the next two matches. The next match is crucial and we will do everything to win it."
The match will kick off at 21:45 NST.