The Maldives national football team will kick off its South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF) campaign against Sri Lanka tonight.
Despite the resignation of the Team Manager Ibrahim Amir after a dispute over player discipline during the team’s pre-tournament trip to Thailand, officials are confident that all adversities can become overcome.
“I believe it’s a loss to the team if we lose anyone close to the team,” said Assistant Secretary General of the Football Association of Maldives (FAM), Mohamed Nasir.
“However, the team is very determined to win despite the situation,” he added.
Amir left the team after disagreements with the FAM over the inclusion of two players in the squad. Nasir recommended the suspension of Ismail Easa and Hassan Adham after the pair returned late to the team hotel, but was overruled by the FAM who argued it was too late to replace the two important players.
Team captain and all-time leading goalscorer Ali Ashfaq told media today that he felt preparations for this tournament had been better than ever before.
“We came here to win the tournament and be with us as the 12th player. Insha Allah we will win the tournament this time, so be with us.” said Ashfaq.
The Maldives are the second most successful team in the tournament’s twenty year history, behind six time winners India. The Maldives’ sole victory came in 2008, after they defeated India team who are otherwise unbeaten in the competition since 2005.
The Maldives take on neighbours Sri Lanka – kick off 5:45 Maldivian time – in the second of Group B’s games. Afghanistan and Bhutan will play this afternoon.
The two sides last met in the semi-finals of the 2009 SAFF championship, with the Maldives claiming an emphatic 5-1 victory in Male’.
Group A’s games began on Saturday, with tournament hosts Nepal beating Bangladesh 2-0. This was followed by champions India beating neighbours Pakistan 1-0.
Coach Istvan Urbanyi – retained by the FAM for his third SAFF tournament – told media last week that the final group game against Afghanistan (September 6) would be crucial.
“No need to talk about options. The first two games we must win, and last game is probably a fight to which position who will qualify, but its better to focus on each game,” Urbanyi told the press.
Afghanistan are the highest FIFA-ranked team in the tournament, followed by India and then the Maldives.
“We have a good team, but nobody can say that they have the strongest team. Small details will make a difference. We are ready to fight. Our target is to take back the trophy to make fans happy,” said the Hungarian coach.