SAFF U19 Championship: India eye semifinal spot as they take on Bhutan

Kathmandu [Nepal]: After a resounding opening-day victory over Bangladesh, the India U-19 Men’s Team will be eyeing the top spot in Group B when they face Bhutan at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu on Monday, September 25, 2023, at 17:15 IST in the ongoing SAFF U19 Championship.
Last Thursday, goals from Gwgwmsar Goyary, Naoba Meitei and Arjun Singh Oinam powered a well-oiled India to a comfortable three points against last year’s finalists Bangladesh. Following that, Bhutan’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Bangladesh on Saturday sealed theirs and India’s berth in the semi-final, meaning Monday’s clash will decide who tops the group and faces the second-placed side from Group A, which could still be either Pakistan, Maldives or Nepal.

Courtesy of their superior goal difference, India requires just a point to emerge as group winners, but head coach Shuvendu Panda asserted that his side has come to the tournament with the intention of winning every single match, as per an All India Football Federation (AIFF) press release.
Another advantage for India will be two days of extra rest as compared to Bhutan. The Blue Colts will be looking to make full use of that, and also keep fresh for the semi-final to come on September 27.
While impressed by his boys’ performance in the first match, Panda pointed out that he expects even more from them as the tournament progresses. “Definitely, there are deficiencies for every team in every game. We need to minimise them game by game. Our playing style depends on the opponent and needs to be adjusted accordingly in every game. As I said earlier, we are taking each and every team very seriously, and I do not think Bhutan is an easy team to play against,” he said.

Panda was in attendance at the Dashrath Stadium to witness Bhutan’s stunning come-from-behind win against Bangladesh, where they trailed by two goals at the half-hour mark. However, the Hideharu Takahashi-coached side didn’t throw in the towel, drawing level before the break and nicking the win in the 84th minute.
Revealing his assessment of Bhutan, Panda said, “We now have all the references about their game approach, and we are preparing our team based on their strengths and weaknesses which we gathered from their last game against Bangladesh. They are technically a good side. Of course, they have some weak links in defence since they conceded three goals.”

Japanese coach Takahashi has been training this batch of Bhutan players since 2021, including at last year’s SAFF U17 Championship, where they lost 0-3 to Bibiano Fernandes’ India. “Our preparations were good. I have been in Bhutan for two years, and we have a different football style now,” said Takahashi.
Panda also agreed regarding their playing style. He said, “They have been preparing together for a long time, so it is obvious their team communication is at a high level. That helps coaches to develop different playing styles.
I do not think they will come up with a similar plan against us as they did against Bangladesh. It will be a different game. They must have also studied our match,” he added.

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