31 December, Thiruvananthapuram
Six times champions India edged past Maldives (3-2) in a terrific encounter to enter the finals of the biennial South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship held at the Greenfield International Stadium, Kariavattom, here this evening.
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.
With this win India reached the finals in the third consecutive editions while Maldives effort to become one in the last two went vain.
The first substantial move of the match came in the eleventh 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 the account in the 24th minute through skipper Sunil Chhetri. Narzary’s crosse from the right saw Chhetri head it in.(1-0)
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.