India cautiously confident on eve of semi-final clash against the Maldives

THIMPHU, BHUTAN: India U-16 Men’s National Team head coach Ishfaq Ahmed seems a lot more content with his team’s performance and believes that this team has finally begun to grasp his footballing philosophy, as they prepare for their SAFF U-16 Championship semi-final clash against the Maldives.

India secured the top spot in Group A and a berth in the semi-finals of the competition with two 1-0 wins over Bangladesh and Nepal. However, while the game against Bangladesh was a more hard-fought affair, the Blue Colts looked much more in control of the proceedings in the match against Nepal, where despite a slender win by a 1-0 margin, India were denied by the woodwork four times.

“The boys have shown a lot of improvement, and I am happy to see that they have played the way we wanted to play our game,” said Ahmed. “We do need to improve our finishing, but I am very happy with the number of chances we created.

“It was important for us to score first, and we managed to keep the ball well throughout the game after that,” he said.

The Maldives, who silenced the home crowd to come back from behind and defeat a 10-man Bhutan 3-2 in their last Group B match, have also shown a lot of improvement, feels Ahmed.

“Maldives were brilliant in their second match, which really surprised me. They showed a lot of improvement from their first game, and have some quality players in their ranks,” said Ahmed. “We have to be careful against these players, as they are individuals with a lot of skills.”

While Ahmed focussed on creating chances and finishing them, he also took the time to appreciate how his side have understood the art of defending as a unit in the last two games.

“I always believe in keeping a good defensive shape and using that as a base to fuel creativity in the attacking third. These are my personal beliefs, but the boys have really grasped the concept well,” opined Ahmed.

“They have understood the concept of how to be compact when we don’t have the ball,” he said. “Full marks to our goalkeeper Suraj (Singh) as well. He was calm under pressure and made crucial saves when we needed him to. They are all ready to help each other, which is the sign of a good team.”

India’s SAFF U-16 Championship semi-final against the Maldives will kick off at 2.30 pm IST at the Changlimithang Stadium, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on Friday, September 8, 2023, and will be streamed live on the Sportzworkz YouTube channel.

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