NEW DELHI: Hosts of the SAFF Championship 2023, India have been drawn in Group A of the competition, along with Kuwait, Nepal, and Pakistan, in the Official Draw Ceremony that was conducted in New Delhi, on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. All India Football Federation President Mr Kalyan Chaubey, South Asian Football Federation General Secretary Mr Anwarul Huq, and AIFF Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran were present to conduct the draw ceremony.
Lebanon and Kuwait are the two teams from outside the South Asian region, who are participating by dint of special invitation. Eight teams are set to fight it out for South Asian supremacy in Bengaluru, as the tournament is set to get underway on June 21, with the final on July 4 in Bengaluru.
India, being the hosts, were automatically placed atop Group A, with Kuwait, Nepal, and Pakistan drawn into the group later. Over in Group B, Lebanon, being the highest ranked team, were automatically placed at the top of the group, with the Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.
Mr Chaubey, at the start of the draw ceremony, said, “I would like to convey my deep gratitude to the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) for acquiescing our request of inviting more countries from outside the South Asian region to participate in this Championship. 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.”
He further said, “Our effort remains to play around 20-25 quality matches, and we have already seen that process begin with the Hero 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.
“Bengaluru is the capital city of the Hero 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,” said he.
SAFF General Secretary Mr Anwarul Huq said, “On behalf of SAFF, it is my honour and privilege to welcome everyone to the magnificent city of 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. 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.”
AIFF Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said, “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.”
India head coach Igor Stimac reiterated that the competitiveness of the Championship will be higher with the addition of the two teams from the Middle East.
“We are very happy to host the SAFF tournament, and as such, we need to behave and act as the favourites to win it. We also welcome Kuwait and Lebanon as guests, participants and hope they will enjoy their stay in India and tournament itself. Playing against them should help us in our preparations for the AFC Cup and our boys are really excited, and determined to do well,” said Stimac.
“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 the mental strength and passing confidence,” he said.
The SAFF Championship 2023 will get 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.