31 December, Thiruvananthapuram
Six times champions India will take on defending champions Afghanistan in the finals of the 11th edition of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championships to be played at the Greenfield International Stadium, Kariavattom, here on Sunday.
While India edged past Maldives (3-2) in a terrific encounter,
Afghanistan flooded Sri Lankan net (5-0) to reach the finals. It was a smooth sail for Afghanistan who won all the matches convincingly with 16 goals in favour and one against. India managed to score only nine goals, but they conceded three goals.
In the first semi finals, India beat Maldives by 3-2.
Jeje Lalpekhua scored a brace and skipper Sunil Chhetri scored once for Blue Tigers while Nashid Ahmed and Amdhan Ali find the back of the net for the national team from the tiny Indian Ocean group of islands.
The first substantial move of the match came in the 11th minute. India found the back of the net when Arnab Mondal whose left footed shot takes a touch off Jeje, but the offside flag was up. India opened account in the 24th minute through skipper Sunil Chhetri. Narzary’s crosse from the right saw Chhetri head it in.
A couple of minutes later an outstanding couple of saves by goalkeeper Mohammed Imran gave relief to Red Snappers but not last long. India raised the lead in the 34th minute through Jeje Lalpekhua. Narzary played a ball over the Maldives defence for Jeje who slots it home brilliantly to make it 2-0.
In the injury time of the first half Maldives pulled one back through Nashid Ahmed in an outstanding grounder finish to bring back confidence for the visitors (2-1). India increased their count in the 65th minute. Chhetri played it for Jeje inside the box who got beyond two opposing players to place it to the goalkeeper’s right (3-1). Even after conceding thrice, the Maldivian army kept confidence up high and raided the other box one back the other and eventually in the 75th minute Amdhan Ali pulls one back. Ali heads the corner in as he out jumped Arnab Mondal to make it 3-2.
India finished as group A leaders, as they won their twin games against Sri Lanka and Nepal while Maldives won two and lost one in their Group B games and finished second to lock horns in semifinals.
In the second match, Afghanistan outclassed Sri Lanka 5-0 to reach the finals.
With seven changes from the previous match, Afghanistan took the first half to regroup and the second half witnessed the real roar of the ‘Lions of Khorasan’.
It was a neck-and-neck encounter in the first half as the defending champions managed to open the account only in the injury time.
Sayed Hashemi, Kanischka Taher, Khaibar Amani, Ahmad Hatifie and skipper Faysal Shayesteh scored for the champions.
In the first half the ‘Lankan Lions’ defended very well without providing any room for Afghanistan to find the target. On occasions when the Afghanistan army marched to the other box, the Lankan defence managed to tie them in offside trap.
The much awaited break through comes in the injury time of the first half. Saighani heads a long ball from the right into Sayed Hashemi’s foot and the centre-back just pushed it in, rapping the upper net to open the account (1-0).
Afghanistan doubles the lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Kanischka Taher find a brilliant backpass from Popalzay, shoots from outside the box to out it inside the top net (2-0).
Sri Lanka suffered the third blast through a penalty when Hakeem fell Popalzay. Khaibar Amani find his fourth goal in the tournament when Sujan Parera goes the wrong way and a finish into the bottom right(3-0). Ahmad Hatifie scored the fourth and Skiper Faysal Shayesteh with a left footed curler raised the lead to 5-0.
This SAFF edition will be the last appearance for Afghanistan as they will move to Central Asian Football Association (CAFA).