India have had a relatively easy ride to the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup but it will be anything but that when they take on high-flying and defending champions Afghanistan in the final on Sunday. (SAFF Cup: Jeje Lalpekhlua's Brace Powers India Into Final, Afghanistan Thrash Sri Lanka)
Afghanistan have emerged as a major footballing force and their decision to quit SAFF and join the new Central Asian Football Association, just goes on to highlight their lofty ambitions. (SAFF Cup: Afghanistan Beat Maldives 4-1)
There are obvious reasons why they have done so well in the recent years. Out of the 20 players in the Afghanistan squad, only five stay are actually from the war-torn country, the rest 15 stay and play outside Afghanistan.
"Despite the situation back in Afghanistan most of the players are lucky to play in Germany, Denmark, USA, Bahrain, Malaysia and so on to hone their skills. Most of them have dual passport.
"Of the list of 20 which we have registered in the SAFF Cup, five come from Afghanistan while the rest of the 15 players stay and play outside Afghanistan," national coach Peter Segrt told aiff.com.
Their exposure to playing in better, foreign leagues have given them an obvious advantage that is clearly on show when they take the field. So it came as no surprise when Afghanistan marched through to the last four unbeaten. Then they when on to completely outplay Sri Lanka 5-0 in the semi-final in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.
History Favours India
India have had a taste of playing against Afghanistan. While India's past record has been good, in recent times there has been a clear power shift. The two have gone head to head four times - all in SAFF Cup matches - with India winning two, drawing one and losing one. (SAFF Cup: Major Setback For India, Delhi Dynamos Star Robin Singh Ruled Out Due to Injury)
India beat Afghanistan 1-0 in 2009 in the Bangladesh edition of the tournament and then again 4-0 in the 2011 final in India but in the 2013 edition, Afghanistan shocked the six-time winners 2-0 in Nepal to announce themselves to the world.
"After the triumph in the 2013 SAFF championship, seven players quit and we lost some key players. I am also looking for players from Afghanistan to settle down in the squad," Segrt added.
Afghanistan, who are the highest ranked team in SAFF at 150th, joined the federation in 2005 but in February 2015, captain Haroon Amiri announced that Afghanistan had officially left the SAFF for the new Central Asian Football Association.
The 2015 edition will be Afghanistan's last SAFF tournament and surely they will be keen to end it in style and what better way than to beat the most decorated South Asian team in their very own backyard.