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Curtain rises on 12th SAFF Championship today
BDchronicle: The curtain of the 12th edition of SAFF Championship, the South Asia’s biggest football-extravaganza, will rise at the Bangabandhu National Stadium today.
This will be the third time that Bangladesh will be hosting sub-continent’s most prestigious football event.
The tournament will get underway with the match between Nepal and Pakistan while host Bangladesh will face Bhutan in the second match of the day at the same venue.
The tournament, that was introduced in 1993 for the South Asian countries, returned to its old shape after a gap of 15 years as the 2013 champions Afghanistan left the football region after taking part in the last seven editions.
This time seven other countries will take part in this tournament which will end on September 15.
Bangladesh first hosted the tournament in 2003, when they became champions. They again hosted it in 2009 where they were knocked out in the semi-final stage.
But since then Bangladesh failed to reach the knockout stage of the competition.
However, this time the Bangladesh Football Federation gave their full support to prepare the national team to regain their pride under English coach Jamie Day, who took charge in June this year.
BFF also sent the team to Qatar and South Korea for conditioning camps under the Englishman and they got immediate result when their Under-23 national football team beat Qatar and drew with Thailand to qualify for the second round of the Asian Games for the first time in their history.
Hosts Bangladesh were drawn in Group A alongside Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan while the Group B consisted of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Defending champions India, the most successful nation in the tournament’s history as they have won the title seven times sent a second strength team this year.
India’s English coach Stephen Constantine preferred to try his Under-23 squad to defend the title as they had a two-week conditioning training camp in Australia only to prepare the young players for the tournament.
As a result, Maldives will be considered as the tournament favourites considering their fine form in the recent years.
Petar Segrt, their Croatia born German coach, who took over the charge of the side in March this year, helped the national side win against Bhutan by a massive 7-0 margin in the Asian Cup qualifying stage.
Segrt said during the pre-tournament press conference on Monday that they came with a young squad only to build up a new football generation for Maldives.
Nepal team head coach Balgopal Maharjan said their primary target was to reach the semi-finals of the competition.
Sri Lanka’s veteran head coach Nizam Pakir Ali believed his young side has ability to offer great challenge to their group opponents India and Maldives.
Pakistan returned to the tournament after a four-year gap as they didn’t take part in the last edition due to internal crisis between the officials of the Pakistan Football Federation.
Pakistan’s Brazilian head coach Jose Antonio Nogueira said they were trying to rebuild the side after their six-month long ban imposed by world football’s governing body FIFA.