Pakistan and India clash in a mouth-watering duel in Group ‘A’ of the SAFF Championship in Kathmandu on Sunday with both teams looking to put one over their arch-rivals.
Pakistan are confident that they can give their more illustrious rivals a good game with India looking to open with a victory as they start the defence of their title they won two years ago in New Delhi.
With Pakistan having been joined by five of their foreign-based players, coach Shahzad Anwar was upbeat ahead of their clash with their neighbours.
Shahzad, formerly the assistant of Pakistan’s ex-coach Zavisa Milosavljevic, is in-charge of the team for the event after the Serbian was fired ahead of the SAFF Championship.
Pakistan’s newly-appointed Bahraini coach Mohammad Al Shamlan is with the team in Nepal as a consultant.
“We have had very good preparations and I can say that my team has the ability to beat anyone at the Championship,” Shahzad said at a pre-match news conference.
“We are under no pressure at all and are very motivated for the clash against India as we look forward to showing our best.
“We have emphasized on special training session and the boys are in good shape.”
India’s Dutch coach Wim Koevermans also conducted high intensity training sessions for the team ahead of their game against Pakistan.
“India versus Pakistan is always special,” Koevermans said at a press conference ahead of the game.
“In fact, the players know more about it than me. We have had high intensity training sessions after arriving in Kathmandu and the boys have trained properly.
“We want to defend our title. India are the team to beat at the Championship and there’s always pressure on a team which wins. But we are ready for it.”
Pakistan haven’t had the best of preparations for the event, losing 3-0 to Afghanistan in an international friendly in Kabul before being held to draw by Nepal’s junior teams in their last warm-up game.
In those games, though Pakistan didn’t have the services of ace defender Zesh Rehman who is hoping that he — along with Pakistan’s four other foreign players Hassan Bashir, Adnan Ahmed, Yousuf Butt and Yaqoob Butt — galvanizes a team which has looked lacklustre at times.
“My aim is to win the Championship,” former Fulham centre-back Zesh said in a recent interview. “This would be the pinnacle of my international career.”
Pakistan will be led by Zesh’s defensive partner Samar Ishaq, a rock at the back for Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in the PPFL.
“I want to do well for the country,” Samar said at the end of last season’s PPFL where he guided KRL to the title. “If we do well at international level, we can hope for a better future.”
Indian captain Sunil Chettri, meanwhile, is just three goals away from being India’s all-time leading scorer.
But that isn’t on his mind when his team take on Pakistan.
“Goals are just numbers,” he told the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) website in an interview ahead of the SAFF event.
“We’re the defending champions and there is no chance to be complacent.”
Meanwhile, Nepal kicked off the SAFF Championship with a 2-0 victory against Bangladesh on Saturday. First-half goals by Anil Gurung and Bharat Khwas helped the Nepalese side seize early control of Group 'A'.