Having started their title-defence with a 1-1 draw against Afganistan, holders India are in a must-win situation against Bhutan in their second game of the SAFF Cup football tournament at the Jawharlal Nehru Stadium here Monday.
The two teams last met in the semi-final of the 2008 SAFF Cup in Male and a last gasp goal by Gourmangi Singh in the extra time gave India a 2-1 win. India coach Savio Medeira was then an assistant to Englishman Bob Houghton and knows that it could be tough against the lowest ranked team in the tournament.
Bhutan, ranked 198, were thrashed 3-0 by Sri Lanka in their opening game Saturday, but Medeira doesn’t want to take them lightly.
“We cannot take any team lightly in this competition. It is a must win match for us. But we also have to win by a big margin because the goal difference may come handy as things look tight on the points table,” Medeira said after the training session here Sunday at the Ambedkar Stadium.
The Goan, who was promoted as the chief coach in October, said that Sameer Naik, who is down with an ankle injury could be replaced with young East Bengal defender Nirmal Chettri. The veteran Dempo wing-back couldn’t train with the team and spent the session with a bandage on his right leg.
Medeira, however, feels that his boys should not enter the match thinking of winning it by a huge margin.
“We have to think about the goal difference but that should not bother the boys too much. That would put lot of pressure on the team. For us the target will be to ensure a win and then go for as many goals as we can get,” he said.
On whether he could replace rusty striker Jeje Lalpeklua with Joaquim Abranches, Medeira said: “I can’t experiment much with the team. A tournament is not a stage to try out new things. We don’t have much time in our hand. Joaquim had his chances and will get in the future as well.”
Asked why midfielder Jewel Raja Sheikh, one of the best players in the last edition, was not given a chance: “Jewel is a good player. We will also have a look at him and I am confident that he would surely get his chance.”
Ace India striker Sunil Chettri came out in defence of junior partner Jeje saying the Pune FC player is a great talent.
“Jeje is a great talent. He has come up the ranks and he is quite fast. After Bhaichung (Bhutia) left there was a huge space but Jeje has lived up to expectations. He is a wonderful player and has a great sense of football. He uses his body to his advantage.”
Chettri also said that India couldn’t afford to be complacent against Bhutan.
“It’s a much-win match for us. We shouldn’t have split points with Afghanistan. There’s no room for any more slip-ups,” he said.
India (likely): Karanjit Singh; Mahesh Gawli, Nirmal Chettri, Syed Rahim Nabi, Gouramangi Singh; Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Steven Dias, Rocus Lamare; Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sunil Chhetri.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)