National Men's Team U19
Blue Colts raring to quell hosts Nepal challenge in SAFF U19 semi-finals
26 Sep 2023

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

KATHMANDU, NEPAL: The Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu is all set for an enticing SAFF U19 Championship semi-final clash between tournament favourites India and hosts Nepal on Wednesday, September 27, 2023, at 17:15 IST. The match will be streamed live on the Sportzworkz YouTube Channel.

With two victories in two matches, India qualified for the last four as Group B winners, while Nepal finished second in Group A behind Pakistan, who will face Bhutan in the first semi-final earlier in the day.

After a comfortable start with a 3-0 win over Bangladesh, India had to come from behind to overcome the Bhutanese challenge on Monday. Gwgwmsar Goyary headed in his second goal of the tournament before Ricky Meetei Haobam finished off a training-ground corner routine with a solid first-time finish from the edge of the area.

Despite it being a narrow 2-1 win, it was a dominant showing from India, especially in the second half, with the Blue Colts creating ample opportunities to widen the margin. Head coach Shuvendu Panda revealed though he wasn't particularly pleased with the performance, it was vital to maintain the hundred percent record against a tricky opposition like Bhutan, who had eliminated Bangladesh in their previous match.

“First of all, I am happy that we won the match and topped the group. But honestly, I am not happy as a coach because the way we had planned to play against Bhutan was not executed accordingly. People need to know that Bhutan are not a cake-walk team. They have been playing together for five to six years and the BFF Academy team also participates in the Bhutan Premier League.

“Overall, the boys' performance was good. We came here with the mindset to win all matches at any cost,” said Panda.

India’s semi-final opponents Nepal went down 0-1 to Pakistan in their first match, but produced a clutch performance in the do-or-die match against the Maldives on Monday, winning 4-1 commandingly. "As I've said earlier, each team in this championship are good, including Nepal. As the tournament progresses, every team get better and better. After losing the first match, they came back with a good victory. It will be a great match. As hosts, they have great support behind them from the fans. I believe it will be a wonderful game that people will really enjoy," said Panda.

The significance of strong home support was evident in Nepal's victory over the Maldives, with an almost four thousand-strong crowd rallying their side to seal the semi-final berth. Playing against Nepal's 12th man will be a unique challenge for the Blue Colts, but not something they're not capable of dealing with, according to Panda.
“I think it is going to be a new situation and environment for the players, and I hope they will do better because of their strong character. They are competent enough to deal with external factors like these, although it is not as easy as we think,” said the coach.

Another factor Panda thinks his boys are well-prepared to work with is the less than 48 hours of recovery time before the semi-final. “We had planned for the semi-final well before the Bhutan game. It is always challenging for players to play with just one day of rest between games. However, we are quite prepared for the match. During our preparation in Bhubaneswar, we had considered all these factors also very meticulously,” explained Panda.

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