New Delhi, 18 May: Hosts India will take on Pakistan in their opening match of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship (SAFF) on June 21 in Bengaluru.
Eight teams will fight it out for South Asian supremacy in Bengaluru, as the tournament is slated to be held in Bengaluru from 21 June to 4 July.
India is drawn in Pool A of the SAFF Championship along with Kuwait, Nepal, and Pakistan, in the official draw ceremony that was conducted, here on Wednesday.
India, being the hosts, were automatically placed atop Group A .In Pool B, Lebanon, being the highest ranked team, were placed at the top of the pool with the Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh
The draw was conducted in presence of All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Kalyan Chaubey, South Asian Football Federation General Secretary Anwarul Huq, and AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran.
Lebanon and Kuwait are the two teams from outside the South Asian region, who are participating by virtue of special invitation..
"I would like to convey my deep gratitude to the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) for acquiescing to our request of inviting more countries from outside the South Asian region to participate in this Championship.” said Chaubey, at the start of the draw ceremony.
“I feel that the addition of Kuwait and Lebanon will help make the Championship more competitive, and I am deeply thankful to the SAFF for taking our recommendation into consideration,"
"Our effort remains to play around 20-25 quality matches, and we have already seen that process begin with the Tri-Nation Cup in Imphal. Now, our team will also play the Hero Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, followed by the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru. They are also set to play the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia and the King's Cup in Thailand later this year.” He informed
Bengaluru is the capital city of the Santosh Trophy champions, and it has excellent facilities. It is our hope that more fans come to support our team in Bengaluru, and push the boys forward," AIFF chief added.
Commenting on the draw ,India head coach Igor Stimac said that the competitiveness of the Championship will be higher with the addition of the two teams from the Middle East.
"A long duration camp was always something we were insisting on and we are going to use it to improve certain parts of our game, work more on mental strength and passing confidence," he added.
On the other hand, SAFF General Secretary Anwarul Huq called SAFF, an ambassador for regional unity and sporting excellence.
"Today marks the first day towards this extraordinary tournament with teams from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan from South Asia, and also our two invitees Lebanon and Kuwait. Let's all come together as a region united by the joy of football," he said
"On behalf of SAFF, it is my honor and privilege to welcome everyone to Delhi for the official draw Ceremony. Today, we witness the beginning of the journey that unites nations. The SAFF has been an ambassador for regional unity and sporting excellence, and we are happy to bring all countries together, fostering brotherhood, cultural togetherness, and the power of hope to transcend boundaries," said Huq
Meanwhile, AIFF Secretary General Prabhakaran said that the addition of Lebanon and Kuwait will add to the competitiveness of the tournament.
"With Lebanon and Kuwait being added to the SAFF Championship, the competitiveness of the tournament is set to be elevated further, and it would also help our preparations for the AFC Asian Cup. For us, retaining the SAFF Championship is also a focus, and we are sure that our team is better prepared than the last edition and our team will do well and be champions this time too," he said.
The SAFF Championship 2023 gets underway on June 21, with Kuwait taking on Nepal in Bengaluru, followed by the match between India and Pakistan later in the same day.
Group B action gets underway on June 22, with Lebanon taking on Bangladesh in the first match of the day, while Maldives play Bhutan after that.
The two teams from each group will enter the semi-finals, which will be played on July 1, while the final will be played on July 4.