A mouth watering clash between India and Pakistan is on the cards on the first day of the SAFF Cup, which is scheduled to take place from 23 December to 3 January in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. However, Nepal-Sri Lanka is the first match of the tournament.
The SAAF Cup draw, which was announced on Wednesday, sees India in Group A along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, while Group B comprises Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
India, who have won the competition six times, are one for the favourites, but they are in for a huge task with teams improving year after year, which can be understood from 2013 SAFF Cup, where India lost against Afghanistan in the finals of the competition. All the eight participating teams from South Asia will be eager to outdo one another in what is one of the biggest competition for these nations.
"The SAFF is certainly a very important tournament in the South Asian region and is becoming more and more competitive and am looking forward to an engrossing competition," The Times of India quoted AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das as saying.
Football fans across the border might be excited with the prospect of a cracker game between India and Pakistan, but there are some growing fears with diplomatic ties between the two countries on a constant downward slide. As a result of this, even the India vs Pakistan cricket series in December has not moved forward.
Coming to the SAFF Cup, one wonders if the Pakistan team will be granted visa. However, Das is not perturbed by such things as he believes there are certain protocols, which needs to be followed to help them get the clearance.
"There is no such issue at this point of time as there are certain protocols to approach the govt to get the necessary clearance which they will do accordingly. We have had Pakistan here before and we also played friendlies with them. Permissions have to be taken but I don't see any problem," added Das.
One does not want the political ties between the two countries to hamper the tournament or for that matter dampen the spirits of an intriguing India vs Pakistan clash.
India has hosted the competition twice in their home soil in 1999 and 2011, and in both instances they won the title. The massive home support have always played an important role in encouraging the players to come up with their best football.
So will India win their third title at home and seventh overall?
Group A – India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal
Group B - Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
India's Group Matches
December 23: India v Pakistan
December 25: Sri Lanka v India
December 27: India v Nepal