Ali Ashfaq- A marked man.
When: March 12th, 2012
Kickoff: 9.15 GMT
Where: Halchowk Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal
FIFA Rank: 174th (36th in AFC)
Previous Encounters: None
10/03/2012 v. Nepal W 1-0
08/03/2012 v. Turkmenistan L 1-3
24/02/2012 v. Thailand L 0-3
09/12/2011 v. India L 1-3
06/12/2011 v. Bangladesh W 3-1
04/12/2011 v. Pakistan D 0-0
02/12/2011 v. Nepal D 1-1
Background: The Maldives are probably best known (unfairly) for the 17-0 World Cup qualifying loss suffered at the hands of Iran back in 1997. That specter looms over Maldivian football but it should by no means define it as the islanders managed to hold South Korea to a 0-0 draw in World Cup qualifying 7 years later. Regionally, the Maldives have established themselves as one of the stronger sides in South Asia and were the last team not named India to win the SAFF Championships when they won it back in 2008. Much like the rest of the teams in South Asia the Maldives rarely play outside their region. That said, they have accounted well for themselves against Central Asian sides (they beat Kyrgyzstan and tied Tajikistan in 2012 Challenge Cup qualifying) but have had very little success against sides from West Asia. The Red Snappers were eliminated by Yemen and Iran at the preliminary hurdle of World Cup Qualifying for the 2010 and 2014 editions while also crashing out of 2011 Asian Cup qualifying at the hands of Lebanon.
István Urbányi is the man leading the charge for Maldives. The Hungarian left the islands in 2010 after the FAM failed to agree terms on a new contract but was brought back late last year. He managed to lead the Red Snappers to the semifinals of the SAFF Championship but the side looked flat in draws against Nepal and Pakistan. Followers of the team point to a shaky defence as the culprit. Indeed, the team had shipped three goals in each of their three previous games until keeping their hopes alive with a win- and a clean sheet- against Nepal yesterday. Urbányi himself has stated that "The Maldives have an issue defending" so the chances will be there for Palestine to win and clinch Group A.
Challenge Cup Squad: The entire squad plies their trade in the eight-team Dhihevi League. Waheed Rilwan and Ali Ashadh are a yellow away from suspension so will have to be on their best behavior if they want to avoid sitting out the next match (Semifinal or 2014 Qualifier). Ahmed Thariq makes his return from suspension after being sent off in the final 10 minutes versus Turkmenistan.
Key Player: Ali Ashfaq has been South Asia's striker par excellence for the past five years. Suspended for the first match he didn't play much of a role in the second match with the Red Snappers completely overrun by the desperate Gorkhalis. The 'Man of Steel' shouldn't be hard to pick out for the Palestinian defenders with his trademark bleach blond hair setting him apart from the rest of his counterparts. If The Maldives are to advance to the semifinals he will need to add to his record 23 international goals and prove he is more than just a big fish in a small pond. Benfica were rumored to be interested in his services and as was even featured in this article featured on ESPN.