Sri Lanka hopes to do well in SAFF event

Sampath PereraThe Sri Lankan national football coach Sampath Perera exuded confidence and hope that his young team will put up a good show in the upcoming SAFF football championship which will be held in Thiruvananthapuram later this month.

Speaking to The Hindu after his team’s first training session at the LNCPE Kariyavattom here on Wednesday, the 50-year-old former captain said that team’s ambition is to reach the finals of the tournament.

“It is a young team with average age of around 25. An appearance in the final is definitely within our reach. I think almost all teams are on level terms. It is the day’s form which will make the difference,” he said.

“India being the host will be the obvious favourite but pressure will be on them which we hope to capitalise. The players are coming into this tournament after the Sri Lankan Super League season which ended on December 5. The boys are fit and raring to go. It is good opportunity for most of them to impress away form home,’’ he added.

Sampath, who led Sri Lanka to victory in the 1995 SAFF championship, took over as the Sri Lankan coach in September from Serbian Nikola Kavazovic who was sacked following Sri Lanka’s losses to Bhutan in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers. This is his fourth tenure with the Sri Lankan national team.

“Actually I didn’t have much time to prepare the team. Our real aim is to do well in the SAF Games in February. The SAFF championship is actually a dress rehearsal for SAF Ganes. Since SAF Games is under-23 tournament I have picked a young side.

“Majority of the players are drawn from Air Force, Navy and Army teams. A good show in this tournament will definitely will be a morale booster for us,’’ said the coach.

Though the coach refused to name any single player on whom he can depend on during the course of the tournament, Johar Zarwan who played for a Seycheles club and Mohammed Rifnas who was man-of-the-tournament in the Super League are the stars to watch out in the Sri Lankan team.

Sri Lanka was drawn to play alongside India, Pakistan and Nepal in the tournament. But the withdrawal of Pakistan has reduced the group to three teams and Sri Lanka fancies itself a chance to go into the semifinals as the group winners.

The Sri Lankan team was supposed to reach Thiruvananthapuram in the last week of November but the non-availability of some players due to Super League forced them to alter the travel plans. The Sri Lankan team will play practices matches against local department teams State Bank of Tranvancore and KSEB as part of its preparations. (Courtesy The Hindu)

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