Captain Sunil Chhetri was India’s hero yet again as he netted twice in the Indian men’s football team’s 3-1 victory over Maldives at the SAFF Championship in Male on Wednesday. The goals helped India qualify for the final of the competition for the eighth successive time.
Manvir Singh gave India the lead in the 33rd minute before Ali Ashfaq’a penalty cancelled it out just before half time.
But India’s superiority showed in the second half as the captain stepped to the plate to convert the two chances that fell to him and give India all three points.
The game though for most parts was quite chaotic as both teams kept losing the ball in midfield with the chances and half-chances emerging out of loss of possession in dangerous areas.
It was none other than Chhetri who came the closest to opening the scoring when his header from a free-kick bounced off the crossbar before being cleared by the Maldives defence in the 25th minute.
India then took the lead as Manvir Singh, who was played into space inside the Maldivian box thanks to a good through ball, found the top corner with a fine finish. The goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal though was guilty of letting the ball pass him a bit too easily at the near post. It wouldn’t be his first mistake of the night.
India had a chance to double the lead when Subhasish Bose, totally unmarked inside the box, got on the end of the corner but failed to get a good connection.
He was made to rue the miss as Pritam Kotal conceded a penalty at the other end that allowed Ashfaq to equalise on the stroke of half time.
The second half started out pretty much as the first with no team having great control over the game. But India once again exposed holes in the Maldives defence as Manvir Singh laid off a diagonal into Chhetri’s path. The skipper was totally unmarked and fired it into the back of the net in the 62nd minute. Once again there were question marks over the Maldives goalkeeper.
Maldives then almost had a perfect response from a free-kick on the egde of the box but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu did well to thwart the effort two minutes later.
India then added another this time through a superb header from Chhetri. The Indian captain peeled away from his marker and directed a looping header into the net from the edge of the box. The goal 19 minutes from time deflated the hosts, who didn’t create too many chances to trouble the Indians.
India though were reduced to ten men in stoppage time when Subhasish Bose received a second yellow card for a late foul. He will now miss the final. Earlier, coach Igor Stimac had been sent off with two yellow cards as well.
India were able to hold on for the remainder of added time to seal the victory and book their place in the final against Nepal on Sunday.