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India-Pakistan battle today in SAFF semis -The Asian Age


The Suzuki SAFF Championship 2018 reaches at its semi-final round with the four qualifiers including India, Nepal, Pakistan and Maldives. 

The defending champions and Group B winner India will take on their arch-rival Group B runners-up Pakistan in the much-anticipated second semi-final match today at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. The match will kick off at 7.30 pm.

In the first semi-final match, Group B champions Nepal will face Group A runners-up the Maldives, who qualified in the semifinal after winning toss after both Sri Lanka and the Maldives have equal one point after playing two matches. The first match will kick off at 4 pm. The matches will be telecast live on BTV and Channel 9. 

All the semi-finalists team members attended a pre-match presser ahead of their semi-final match held at the BFF House in Motijheel. 

India assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh, Pakistan head coach Jose Antonio Nogueira and captain Saddam Hussain, Maldives head coach Petar Segrt and captain Mohammed Mujuthaaz Ges and Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Mahrajan and captain Biraj Maharjan were present there. 

All qualifiers promised to show their best to reach the finals. India's assistant coach Venkatesh Shanmugam believes that they are not the favorite and are taking Pakistan seriously. "Pakistan is a strong team. We're not favorite in the tournament," he added.  

On the other hand, Head coach of Pakistan Jose Antonio Nogueira said, "India's quality is very good, they're organized and synchronized. But we're prepared and we'll try to capitalize in any mistake they make."

Group A champions Nepal are also serious about Maldives. The head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan stated during the press conference, "I hope in the semi-final against the Maldives tomorrow, we can carve out a historical result for Nepal football." 

Maldives head coach Petar Segrt said they don't care about the past results between the two teams and are now determined to win against Nepal.

Team India is the only unbeaten side in the competition so far. India was placed in Group B alongside Sri Lanka and Maldives while Group A consisted of Nepal, Pakistan, hosts Bangladesh, and Bhutan. 

They started their SAFF campaign with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka. Their dominance continues with another 2-0 straight victory over Maldives.  

On the other hand, Maldives were tied with Sri Lanka on points, goal difference, goals against and head-to-head results. The nation who would go into the semi-final was decided by a coin toss, and Maldives qualified in the semifinal as the Group B runners-up. 

In the Group A, Pakistan began their campaign with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Nepal but lost to 0-1 to Bangladesh in their second group. They end their group campaign with 3-0 victory over Bhutan. 

Nepal and the hosts Bangladesh both beat Bhutan respectively by 4-0 and 2-0 goals. The hosts sit on top of the Group, with six points and were need of a draw at the minimum against Nepal to secure their semi-final berth. 

For Nepal, a win still won't ensure that they progress as their fate depends on how Pakistan - who also have three points from two games - perform against Bhutan. 

But the dream shattered when Nepal brought down high flying Bangladesh to the earth beating them by 2-0 goals in the last Group A match. The equations altered with this result, Nepal emerge as the Group A champions and Pakistan fix runners-up spot. 

Bangladesh head coach Jamie Day stated after the last match against Nepal, "The first goal was a mistake by the goalkeeper and it happens in football. I am extremely proud of the boys. 

We were caught in the end, but we had to go forward because we had to stay in the competition. Two wins and beating Pakistan was a highlight for us. If the crowd feels disappointed, then I feel sorry for the boys because the effort they have put in doesn't deserve that," he added.