India forward Sunil Chhetri has dubbed today's South Asian Football Federation Cup semi-final against Maldives "the toughest game of the tournament". What football pundits predicted to be a potential final was reduced to a semi-final after Afghanistan's impressive show saw them top Group A ahead of India.
Chhetri however, is quietly confident about the defending champions' chances of making the final. "Maldives are one of the best teams of the tournament. They play a very tight game. It's going to be the toughest game of the tournament for us. But we are confident and focussed," said the 27-year-old Mohun Bagan striker, who, along with India teammate Jeje Lalpekhlua, recently attended trials with Scottish champions Rangers.
Chhetri, who's enjoying a purple patch having scored four goals in the tournament already, reserved special praise for his strike partner Lalpekhlua, who found the net in India's 3-0 quarter-final triumph over Sri Lanka. "Jeje has amazed us by breaking into the team at such a young age. He has been picked ahead of some seasoned players, which speaks volumes of his talent," Chhetri said about the 20-year-old Pune FC striker.
India are the most successful team in SAFF Cup's history, having won it a record five times. But the absence of top teams raise questions over the level of competition. This year only Nepal (143) is ranked higher than India (162) in the FIFA world rankings.
"It's a tricky tournament. If we lose, then questions like 'you lost the SAFF Cup?' crop up. But by doing well here, we know we're improving and in the right direction," Chhetri signed off.