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Fairytale as Maldives clinch Saff title

  • Published at 11:48 pm September 15th, 2018
Saff
Action from the Saff Championship final between India and Maldives in Dhaka Saturday Dhaka Tribune/Md Manik

It was an astonishing win in all aspects as Maldives won just a single point without scoring any goal in the group stage before qualifying for the semi-final, thanks to their good luck in the coin toss

Maldives clinched the south Asian regional football title after approximately a decade as they defeated last edition’s winner India 2-1 in the final of the Saff Suzuki Cup 2018 at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Saturday evening.

It was an astonishing win in all aspects as Maldives won just a single point without scoring any goal in the group stage before qualifying for the semi-final, thanks to their good luck in the coin toss. 

But the side rejuvenated themselves and beat Nepal in the semi-final before triumphing over India to bury their voodoo in finals in Dhaka as the side lost both their previous Saff grand finales in Dhaka back in 2009 and 2003. 

Forward Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain put the new champion ahead in the opening half before Ali Fasir sealed victory in the second half to ensure their first win in their third final against the same opponent to lift the regional crown. 

Maldives could clinch the trophy only once, back in 2008, when they co-hosted the tournament with Sri Lanka. 

Maldives’ three changes in the forward-line during the semi-final against Nepal from their 2-0 defeat against India in the last Group B match played a crucial role in winning not only in the last-four, but also in the final against the reigning champion.

Maldives made five changes while India had two alterations from their last-meeting in the group stage. 

Among the Maldives changes, attacking trio Fasir, Hamza Mohamed and Hassan Naiz contributed in both the goals.

Mahudhee put Maldives ahead in the 19th minute, placing home past Indian goalkeeper Vishal Kaith at the near post after breaking into the right side of the box following a defence-splitting through pass from Naiz.

India piled on the pressure for the equaliser and had three chances in the opening half, starting with Faruk Kasam Choudhury, who failed to accumulate a pass inside the six-yard box at the half-hour mark.

India’s semi-final hero Manvir Singh collected a clearance from Naiz at the top of the box two minutes later, only to see his volley go inches wide off the sidepost. 

Manvir created a chance two minutes later with a brilliant flick into the penalty area but Faruk fired over the bar.

The holder appeared more attacking after resumption as Stephen Constantine made an early substitution by bringing in midfielder Germanpreet Singh, replacing defender Davinder Singh, but it was Maldives who took control of the game with another goal.

Fasir doubled the lead in the 65th minute, sending the ball in the right side of the onrushing keeper into the far post with a calm finish. 

Hamza created the opportunity with a timely through pass between Indian defending pair Sarthak Golui and Ranjan Singh Salam to set Fasir up at the top of the box.

Manvir had a couple of chances in the second half, heading over the bar from inside the box in the 47th minute and failing to connect a corner from the six-yard box.

Indian forward Sumit Passi came off the bench to score the consolation two minutes into injury time. 

Nikhil Chandrashekhar rolled the ball inside the box from the right flank that met an unmarked Sumit inside the box and the forward made no mistake finding the net, though it was too little, too late for the holder to salvage their mission.

RESULT

India 1 (Sumit 90+2) 2 Maldives (Mahudhee 19, Fasir 65)