National Men's Team U19
India ready to dismantle counter-attacking Pakistan in SAFF U19 Final
29 Sep 2023

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

KATHMANDU, NEPAL: India are on the hunt for their eighth SAFF youth men's title as the Blue Colts take on Pakistan in the SAFF U19 Championship Final at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu on Saturday, September 30, 2023 at 17:15 IST. The final will be streamed live on the Sportzworkz YouTube Channel.

Both teams showed great resolve to emerge victorious on penalties in their tantalising semi-finals on Wednesday. While India beat hosts Nepal 3-2 after a 1-1 draw at the end of 90 minutes, Pakistan played goalless against Bhutan before edging them 6-5 in the shoot-out to reach their third SAFF final in history.

India and Pakistan have met only once in a SAFF final before. That was in the 2011 SAFF U16 Championship, where Pakistan ran out 2-1 winners at the very same Dashrath Stadium to clinch what is still their only SAFF title. As far as the higher age groups are concerned, India will look to defend their title from last year which was held in the U20 format in Bhubaneswar. For Pakistan, this is their first-ever appearance in the tournament.

Seemingly excited before the big final, India head coach Shuvendu Panda expressed his expectations from the game in the pre-match press conference. "I'm quite sure this is going to be a very good match. Of course, I don't go into the history between India and Pakistan. We are just concentrating on the final. I know they are a very good side, very disciplined and tactically strong. People always enjoy an India-Pakistan match, and I hope they will tomorrow as well," he said.
Panda's counterpart Shadab Iftikhar said, "Any final is a special game. You don't know when the next final is going to come along so you should enjoy it. I don't think many expected Pakistan to be here. It's an absolute honour to be part of this moment. Hopefully, this is just one of many."

India had beaten Bangladesh (3-0) and Bhutan (2-1) to top Group B before their thrilling semi-final win over the hosts in front of a partisan crowd. Panda explained that he expected a different sort of contest than what panned out in the semi-final. "Nepal are an aggressive side. They focus more on attacking. However, Pakistan are a defensive side who go for counter-attacks. Every game is a different situation and we are ready to face the challenge. Being in the final is great motivation for the boys."

Like India, Pakistan also topped their group with a 1-0 win over Nepal and a 1-1 draw with Maldives. Iftikhar's boys, who were put under real test by Bhutan's quick attack, have conceded only once in the tournament.

Sharing his thoughts on the opponents, India captain Ishaan Shishodia said, "While coming into the competition, we didn't know much about how the teams play. But now, we've seen Pakistan's three matches and we know about them. Our coach has given us all the information we need to get the win. We feel confident."

For the large majority of the Indian squad, this SAFF U19 Championship is their first international tournament representing their nation, and September 30 is going to be the biggest day of their young careers. The first trophy is always special, no matter what level of competition.

“First of all, when we came here, our only goal was to lift the trophy. And finally, we are one step closer and the last obstacle is Pakistan. Everyone in the team is motivated. It's a match we all will remember for the rest of our lives," shared Shishodia.

Panda, who has guided this batch of players since 2021, placed every ounce of trust in each of his 23 Blue Colts, who will create history for themselves and the nation should they pass the final test. The day has finally arrived.

“Definitely, we are here to make history because we have been in this process for the last two years, working hard for this moment and this day. I have two hundred percent faith in my players. We will give our best and do everything possible to try and bring the trophy home,” concluded Panda.

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