New Delhi: Arch-rivals India and Pakistan have been drawn in different groups for the 9th SAFF Cup football tournament at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here December 2-11.
The tournament will kick-off with Pakistan taking on Bangladesh while defending champions India will start their campaign December 3 against Afghanistan. The tournament returns to India after 1999, when the hosts won in Margao.
Five-time winners India have been clubbed in Group A with Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bhutan. Pakistan are in Group B along with last year's runners-up Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal.
India (world No.160th), who are ranked below Bangladesh (141) and Nepal (144), will be the tournament favourites. Sri Lanka are ranked 177th while Afghanistan are 184th.
Nepal are the highest ranked in group B while Maldives are at 162, Pakistan 173 and Bhutan 199.
The two top teams will advance to the semifinals Dec 9.
Meanwhile, the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) renewed its deal with World Sport Group (WSG) till 2017 to cover four SAFF Cups. The WSG has been SAFF's telecast and marketing partner since 1996.
"Our partnership with WSG has been instrumental in securing the financial stability that ensures the sport's sustainable growth in the region over the long-term. Their commitment over the past 15 years has helped us to establish the administrative foundation and infrastructure that is necessary for us to govern and develop the sport effectively," said SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin, Bangaldesh's legendary footballer.
WSG senior vice president Ian Mathie, who is in-charge of the game in ASEAN, Australia and South Asia, said: "In just over a decade and a half, football in South Asia has experienced tremendous growth both on and off the field. During this time, we have enjoyed a unique partnership with SAFF that has positively impacted football in the region. SAFF has a distinguished group of marketing and media partners, and a great event - SAFF Championship - which is widely watched and growing in popularity across the region."