India open SAFF Cup campaign against Sri Lanka; aim to banish ghosts of World Cup qualifiers

Thiruvananthapuram: India will seek a fresh beginning as they open their campaign by taking on the challenge of Sri Lanka in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championships on Friday.

Stephen Constantine's wards endured a very difficult time in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, so far managing to win just one game from six outings.

But the young squad named for the tournament, in which most of the players are below 23, are full of enthusiasm and are expected to dish out an impressive performance against heir opponents from the region.

 India open SAFF Cup campaign against Sri Lanka; aim to banish ghosts of World Cup qualifiers

India take on Sri Lanka in their SAFF Cup opener. AIFF

Prolific striker Sunil Chhetri will lead the way for the home team in the company of the ever-improving Jeje Lalpekhlua.

The other young players include Pritam Kotal, Narayan Das, Rowlin Borges, Pronay Halder, Holicharan Narzary, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Kaushik Sarkar, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Sumit Passi.

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu remains the best bet at the post but Constantine did not rule out the possibility of giving the experienced Subrata Paul a chance.

Asked about his plans for Friday's game against Sri Lanka, Constantine said, "They play a defensive formation and will hit us on the counter attacks. They have some decent players and work extremely hard."

"There are no easy games for us -- in fact, against anybody. I expect Sri Lanka to give everything they have. We have to be patient and see what happens."

Talking further about his young outfit, the Brit said, "When I took over I had to make a choice -- either to continue with the tried and tested whose average age was around 30, or to rebuild the squad. I opted for the second despite being aware that it won't deliver you immediate results."

"We have lost Sandesh (Jhingan who's also an U-23 player), Lobo (Cavin) and Seityasen Singh. Anas pulled a hamstring and we had to release him too. Besides, there are a number of guys whom we need to be careful with."

"I could have easily played Jhingan and Lobo. They could have played in this tournament and their presence would have certainly strengthened my squad. But if I played them here they would have missed the next six months."

PTI

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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2015 09:53:53 IST