After a gap of five long years, the Indian football team will take on neighbours Pakistan in the semi-final of the SAFF Championship in Dhaka today.
The defending champions are looking to win their eighth sub-continental title. The young Indian team, led by Stephen Constantine, reached the semi-final after beating Maldives 2-0 and are looking in pretty good shape to go all the way in the tournament.
Here are three things to look out for as India take on Pakistan:
3. Past Record Favours India
India and Pakistan have faced each other on 31 occasions, with the Blue Tigers having won 18 times and drawn five games.
The last time these two teams met in an official match was in the SAFF Championship in 2013 in Nepal. India won that game 1-0. Overall, India have won five of their seven SAFF Cup matches against Pakistan and have lost only once.
Pakistan have been pretty impressive since their three-year international football ban was lifted and come into this game on the back of impressive wins against Bhutan and Nepal.
This is the fifth occasion when they have managed to reach the semi-finals of the SAFF Championship. The last time they reached the last four was in 2005 when they were the hosts.
2. Confident India Ready to Face Respectful Pakistan
Indian team's coach Stephen Constantine was calm in his pre-match talk as he said, "We are aware of the contest. But that is nothing different. It's just another match. We can't let the occasion get over us and hopefully, we will beat them to advance to the final."
Meanwhile Pakistan's coach José Antonio Nogueira sounded pretty excited as he stated, "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."
He continued, "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."
Additionally, Pakistan's captain Saddam Hossain added, "We have immense respect for India. They have come with a young team but we have seen their athletic prowess during the group stage. They have enough potential and intelligence to outplay their opponents on a given day."
1. Key Indian Players to Pay Attention to
India come into this game on the back of 2-0 wins against Sri Lanka and Maldives in which they missed multiple clearcut chances to score more goals. The youngsters will have to ensure they don't squander any big chances against Pakistan.
Constantine will once again expect the likes of Anirudh Thapa, Ashique Kuruniyan, Lalianzuala Chhangte and Nikhil Poojary to come up with good performances. These four players have been instrumental in everything that has been positive about this young Indian side.
With Subhasish Bose leading the team and goalkeeper Vishal Kaith in good form, Constantine will hope that this team maintains the record India holds over Pakistan in SAFF Championships.