SAFF Cup 2023: All you need to know – Dates, Venues, Teams, and Format
The South Asian Football Federation Championship, which is majorly known by the fans as the SAFF Cup is a football tournament for South Asian nations that usually takes place after every two years, except on a few occasions.
The first edition of the football competition took place in Pakistan in 1993. In that season, India emerged as the eventual winner after they defeated Sri Lanka in the final. On the other hand, Nepal and Pakistan acquired third and fourth spots.
Including its inaugural season, the football tournament has taken place a total of 13 times and the SAFF Cup 2023 will be the 14th edition of the competition. India stands as the most successful team in the South Asian Football Federation Championship with 8 titles and in addition to that, they are also the defending champions.
After India, Maldives have won the championship twice, while Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka have got the chance to touch the silverware once. However, the 2013 SAFF Cup champions, Afghanistan will not be a part of the competition for obvious reasons.
Interestingly, India’s Sunil Chettri is the all-time highest goal scorer of the tournament with 18 goals. The 37-year-old was also the top-scorer of the SAFF Cup in 2011 and 2021 with seven and five goals respectively. Maldives’ Ali Ashfaq is the second-highest goal scorer of the tournament with 13 goals while former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutai is on the third spot with 12 strikes.
The 2021 edition of the South Asian Football Federation Championship took place in Bhutan, where the Indian Football Team cemented its dominance in the tournament by winning its eighth title with a 3-0 win over Nepal.
The 14th edition of the SAFF Cup will take place from 21 June to 4 July. The first match of the much-awaited tournament will be played between Kuwait and Nepal. Moreover, in the second match of the inaugural day, fans will get to witness a massive Group A brawl between India and Pakistan.
The group stage matches will be completed by July 28 as the last fixture will be played between Bhutan and Bangladesh. Thus, the knockout matches will commence on the 1st of July. Both semi-final matches will be played on the same day and the final of the 2023 SAFF Cup will take place on 4th July.
Initially, Sri Lanka showed massive interest in hosting the 2023 SAFF Cup. However, earlier this year, in January, they were suspended by FIFA and as a result of the suspension, they failed to get permission to host or even participate in the tournament. Consequently, Nepal was also in the race for hosting rights of the tournament but the result of AFC Congress 2023 didn’t come in their favor.
Eventually, India became the hosting nation of the 2023 South Asian Football Federation Championship. Sree Kanteerava Stadium, which is located in Bengaluru will be the playing venue for all the matches of the tournament. Moreover, the stadium has a total capacity of 25,810 spectators.
The last edition of the SAFF Cup only had five teams while in 2023, eight nations will be participating in the championship from two sub-confederations. Only India and Nepal have been a part of the tournament for all the editions while Bangladesh will be a part of the championship for the 13th time.
Maldives and Pakistan will be playing for the 12th time, while Bhutan will be participating in the SAFF Cup for the ninth time. Moreover, in this edition, Kuwait and Lebanon have been invited as guest teams in order to increase the number of teams in the tournament and make the championship more competitive.
The best-ranked team in the competition is Lebanon, who are currently in the 99th spot in the FIFA World Ranking. Afterwards, India is ranked 101 in the world rankings. Thus, both teams were drawn into the first pot.
Consequently, Kuwait (143) and Maldives (154) were in the second pot, while Nepal (174) and Bhutan (185) were in the third pot and Bangladesh (192) and Pakistan (195) were in the fourth pot for the draw. Moreover, the draw ceremony took place in New Delhi, India on 17th May.
India is still the favorite to defend their title and win the SAFF Cup for the ninth time in the 14th edition. However, Lebanon can give the Blue Tigers tough competition in the hunt. Moreover, football fans are already ready for a fairy tale of an underdog.
The group stage format of the South Asian Football Federation Championship has been different on most occasions because a different number of teams have participated in the competition. For Instance, only one group of five teams was present in the recent edition of the championship and a direct final was played between the top two nations, that were India and Nepal.
Thus, to increase competition amid the absence of Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, two new nations have been introduced in the competition with the view of increasing potential competition for the teams in the football tournament. A common rule is that each team has to register a squad with a minimum of 18 players and a maximum of 23 players, at least three of whom must be goalkeepers.
A total of 8 nations will participate in the cup competition and it has a Round Robin format. Two groups of four teams each have been drawn for the competition. Every team will play once against all the three other teams in their group. After the group-stage matches, the top two teams will qualify further for the semi-finals.
In the semifinals, the first-placed team from Group A will face the second-placed side from Group B. Similarly, the first-placed nation from Group B will square off against the second-placed team from Group A.