Dubbed as the World cup of South Asia, the history of SAFF Championship dates back to 1993 AD when the four nations of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) started a regional football tournament to strengthen football in the region.
The first Championship was held in 1993 as the “South Asian Association of regional Co-operation” Gold Cup in Lahore, Pakistan. Only four nations India, Nepal, Sri Lanka participated along with the hosts Pakistan. The Trophy was won by India, stamping its position as the regional powerhouse.
In 1995 the competition got another name “South Asian Gold Cup” which was held in Sri Lanka. Though six nations agreed to participate, Maldives later withdrew from the competition leaving only five teams, Bangladesh being the new one joining the nations from first edition. Hosts Sri Lanka won the Cup defeating India in the finals.
It was only after the next edition in 1997 that the championship got a new name, now called “South Asian Football Federation” championships. The first SAFF Cup was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. With Maldives joining, it saw six nations competing for the title.It was India once again winning back the championship lost two years earlier,reinstating itself as the region’s strongest team.
The second SAFF Championships were held in Goa in April 1999. With the same six nations participating, India defended its title beating Maldives in the finals.
Although SAFF decided to make it a biennial event, the following years saw some difficulties and the third edition could be held only in the year 2003, this time with all the eight nations from the region participating, Bhutan and Afghanistan making it for the first time. The hosts Bangladesh won the finals for the first time. It is the only time, India haven’t reached the finals till the present edition.
The fourth SAFF Championships were held in Karachi, Pakistan in 2005. Bangladesh and India played out the final in a repeat of the 1999 final. India came out on top again, winning the title for the fourth time.
For the first time, the fifth edition of the Championship was held jointly by two nations, Sri Lanka and Maldives in 2008. Though scheduled for 2007, it had to be postponed for technical reasons. In the finals, Maldives overcame tournament favorites and defending champions India, to lift the title.
The sixth SAFF Championship was initially to be hosted by India, but after a number of reasons, the tournament was hosted by Bangladesh in 2009. India was again in the finals, this time against a well-known opponent, Maldives. India went on to win the title in tie-breakers, winning the championship for a record fifth time. No other country has ever won the Championship more than once.
The seventh SAFF Championship was hosted by India in 2011. Originally scheduled to be hosted by Orissa, the venue was later switched to New Delhi. India rose up to the occasion once again, winning the tournament with an emphatic victory over Afghanistan, who were into the finals for the first time.
– By Kiran Dahal. Kiran Dahal is senior writer of Givemegoal.com.