Sans Chettri, India gear up for Maldives' challenge

Kathmandu, Sep 8 (IANS) Sans skipper and striker Sunil Chettri, India are geared up for a tough fight against former champions Maldives in the semi-final of the SAFF Championship football here Monday.

After a pathetic show in the group stages, Chettri has been reminding his team mates of "their potential". He has been out of the team for "double booking", having been shown the yellow card twice in two consecutive matches.

There's just one word ahead of the semi-final against the Maldives - belief. India had beaten the Maldives last year to win the Nehru Cup. Chettri has happy memories of that match since he scored twice and Syed Rahim Nabi once.

But here, the Maldives are the team to beat. They have scored 18 goals in just three matches.

"They have scored 18 goals. But we are not that bad as a team. But Maldives is not all about Ali Ashfaq," said India's goalkeeper Subrata Paul. Ashfaq is a great player and the Maldives are a very dangerous unit, he added.

However, India are not intimidated by Ashfaq's comment that this is the "weakest-ever Indian team", Paul said.

"It's his opinion. We are not looking back at history. Instead, we prefer to concentrate on the semi-final."

India coach Wim Koevermans also said he is not bothered by what others have to say of his boys.

"I won't comment what others have to say about us. We are focusing on the next match," he said. "We are happy we have a bit of rest prior to the semi-final. There's more energy in the squad at the moment."

Paul said Chettri will be missed but he is hopeful about the bench strength.

"He is a great player. But there's no point in crying. We have a strong bench and others stay ready to fill in the void," he said.

Chettri said the boys are aware of their responsibilities.

"I know what we are capable of. It's the semi-final and it's another match, a different one," he said.

The Maldives' coach Istvan Urbanyi doesn't agree with his star striker Ashfaq.

"India keep on fighting till the end. They scored two late goals in the last two matches. It shows the quality of their side."


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