July 07 2020
India and Afghanistan to clash in final (FOOTBALL)
09 December 2011

A haze hung over the Nehru Stadium as India found direction with a tactically superior show.

India, as planned, took early charge, led twice and earned a rightful place in the final of the SAFF Championship here.

In the final, India plays Afghanistan, which overcame a dogged Nepal with a lone extra time goal. The Afghans could not have found a better striker than the popular Balal Arezo. He missed two sitters before making amends with a dazzling solo effort in the 101st minute of the contest marred by frayed tempers in the closing stages.

Maldives, not at its best, was eliminated 3-1 but the score line was a gross exaggeration of the trend. Maldives missed Ali Ashfaq, the star striker, badly. “He had problems in the first minute (muscle injury),” bemoaned coach Istvan Bela Urbanyi, clearly agitated with the loss.

India had little worries. The team moved with cohesion, riding on Sunil Chetri's opportunism and Syed Rahim Nabi's untiring efforts on the left. Nabi scored the first goal and Chetri the next two after Maldives had equalised through a stunning shot by Shamweel Qasim.

India did well to attack. And did better to maintain the aggression!

“The boys were under pressure but importantly we kept the ball rolling,” said coach Savio Madeira.

There was a refreshing change in India's approach. The emphasis was clearly on taking the initiative and the signs were evident early.

Clifford Miranda, who was markedly consistent, and Jeje Lalpekhula created early pressure. A Jeje header was goal worthy but goalkeeper Imran Mohammed was spectacular in making a save. It was Nabi's brilliance that saw India take the lead in the 24th minute. Jeje missed a header off a Miranda floater but Nabi sneaked in from behind to get his foot to the ball just in time. The Maldives coach termed the goal a “gift.”

Goal of the match

And then came the goal of the match, a blistering 25-yard strike by Qasim that found the roof of the net. The match was 59 minutes old.

“We showed better rhythm in the second half. We controlled better.

“Chetri did not get to touch the ball too often,” asserted the Maldives coach. But Chetri scored twice and buried Maldives with some tactically superior football.

Even as the Maldives coach insisted, “India was lucky to win,” there was no doubt that Medeira's players had done their homework.

“They rolled the ball better,” said the India coach.

Twenty minutes from end Chetri capitalized on a breakaway move, slithered into the Maldives box before he was brought down by Mohammad Umair.

“If it was a foul, it was unnecessary,” admitted Urbanyi. It was needless, no doubt, but helped India take the lead as Chetri rolled it in craftily.”

The game degenerated as Maldives played rough.

The desperation saw Ahmed Thariq earn red card for showing offensive gesture to Kyrgystan referee Timur Faizullin.

The game stretched into injury period when Chetri struck again, this time Jeje putting him through with a diagonal ball.

Maldives showed poor spirit in defeat, crowding the referee, who needed security escort when leaving the field. Akram Abdul Gani had to be pushed back to the field for the mandatory handshake among the players at the end of the match.

Maldives may have lost some friends but the Indians gained many for their improved show this evening.



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