The Indian football team is set to begin the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship on Wednesday, with their first match of the tournament scheduled against Pakistan. Be it an Indo-Pak contest in cricket or football, this one particular contest is something that neither of the two sets of players wants to lose. India skipper Sunil Chhetri, explained how things turn from ‘hunky-dory’ to ‘hostile’ as soon as the referee blows the whistle to start the match between the two countries.
In a video shared by the Indian Super League, Chhetri shared his past experiences of playing against Pakistan. While the two countries’ players are all friendly with each other before the match, things flip dramatically as soon as the match starts
“Before the Pakistan match, whenever we met the boys, it was all hunky dory. Even when I was in Pakistan once or twice we’ve played here and there we were all fine and friendly. We are all nice, they speak Punjabi, we speak Punjabi, the moment the whistle blows I don’t know what happens,” Chettri said in the video.
“It’s by default, just the sense of anyone but them. Maybe it’s ingrained in our upbringing as Indians and I’m pretty sure they will say the same thing. The hostility, the fact that we don’t want to lose against them comes in,” he added.
The 14th edition of the SAFF Championship has been divided into two groups. India lies in Group A with, Kuwait, Nepal and Pakistan. Group B comprises Lebanon, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Sunil Chhetri-led India are the highest-ranked team in Group A. They are 101st in the FIFA rankings. Kuwait are world No. 143 followed by Nepal at 174. Nepal were the runners-up in the last edition in 2021. Pakistan are ranked lowest at 195th.
The group stage will be played in a single round-robin format. The top two teams from each group will then play semi-final on July 1. The final is scheduled for July 4.
India have won SAFF Championship eight times and are the most successful team in the tournament. The Maldives are two-time champions while Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have won the title once each