Forward Ibrahim Hassan Wahed scored a brace at the late stage of the game after skipper Akram Abdul Ghanee put his side ahead early in the opening half to earn Maldives their first Saff final berth after nine years
A rejuvenated and well-organised Maldives reached the final of the Saff Suzuki Cup 2018 after handing Nepal a surprising 3-0 defeat in the first semi-final at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Wednesday.
Forward Ibrahim Hassan Wahed scored a brace at the late stage of the game after skipper Akram Abdul Ghanee put his side ahead early in the opening half to earn Maldives their first Saff final berth after nine years.
It will be the fifth final for the Island nation and they played their last final at the same venue. No wonder their head coach Petar Segrt termed the BNS as a lucky ground after the game.
Segrt also claimed his tactical changes made the difference as the German coach made five alterations from the previous squad.
Attacking trio Hassan Naiz, Hamza Mohamed and Ali Fasir returned to the starting XI while midfielder Nihaan Hussain and Samdhooh Mohamed also made their first starting appearance in the tournament.
Akram put Maldives ahead in the ninth minute after his left-footed free-kick from 20 yards out beat the defence wall and bounced home into the far post, denying Nepal goalkeeper Kiron’s diving effort.
Earlier, Ali Fasir earned the set-piece after Bimal fouled him just outside the box.
Nepal still kept control of midfield, led by the hard working Sunil Bal, who created a couple of chances, while Bharat Khawas, Ali Fasir and Suman Aryan also had their opportunities before the game was halted in the 27th minute for 33 minutes due to heavy rainfall.
Nepal appeared more organised and attacking after resumption but Maldives keeper Mohamed Faisal and defender Hossain Yoosuf made some brilliant saves and clearances to deny them from scoring.
In the 39th minute, Bharat squandered another great chance, sending the ball wide from close range after Bimal’s initial effort from the right side of the box rebounded off the diving keeper.
Naiz Hassan almost doubled the lead four minutes into the second half. Naiz skipped past his marker after a fine through pass from Ibrahim, drifted inside the box but his shot was saved by the onrushing custodian for a corner.
Bal Gopal made a couple of changes at the hour mark with last-match’s scorer Nawayug Sreshtha and midfielder Anjan Bista replacing Bharat and Nirajan Khadka respectively.
Maldives defence remained solid with their netminder continuing to be busy, denying substitute Irufaan’s header in the 78th minute.
Ibrahim Waheed doubled the lead in the 84th minute, firing home into the top right corner, after Abdulla’s cross from the right flank and defender Dinesh Rajbansi’s clearance fell in front of Ibrahim at the top of the box.
Ibrahim scored once again two minutes later, beating the Nepal keeper with a right-footer after a short pass from Abdulla set him up unmarked at the middle of the box.
Segrt termed their win as the biggest success in nine years while Gopal blamed the ground as he thought rain played the pivotal role in deciding the fate of the game.
Nepal 0 3 Maldives (Ghanee 9, Ibrahim 84, 86)
Nepal Stats Maldives
16 Shots 14
4 Shots on target 7
67 Possession % 33
458 Passes 236
76 Pass accuracy % 58
6 Fouls 16
1 Yellow cards 0
1 Offsides 2
8 Corners 5