Maldives lifted their second regional football title beating India 2-1 in the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium on September 15, Saturday.
It is Maldives’ second title after 2008 when they co-hosted the tourney with Sri Lanka.
As with all finals, both the teams were taking the proceedings cautiously, this one was not an exception. Short passes, trying to hold the ball was the order till first quarter of the hour. India opted a 4-4-2 formation while Maldives fielded their team in the 4-3-3 shape.
Among a number of sporadic attacks India was more threatening as the match slowly opened up. Maldives waited for their chances and they were first to laugh.
A quick counter attack in the 20th minute saw the Indian Ocean islanders take the lead. It was a good build up that consequentially ended in a goal. Hasan Naiz broke free in the midfield and cut a nice through in the path of onrushing Ibrahim Hussain whose inswinging placing shot beat Indian goalie Vishal Kaith in the far post net (1-0).
India widened their game in pursuit of the equalizer and Manvir Singh came close to that in the 30thminute. Maldives skipper Akram Abdul Ghanee’s miscued clearance landed at the feet of unmarked Manvir who shot into the outside net from the middle of the box.
Indian winger Nikhil Pujary made a number of runs down the right flank and cut some crosses but none of them reached their destiny. In the 39th minute Nikhil saw his effort miss the crosspiece by a whisker.
In the dying minutes of the first half Maldives forward Ali Fasir was cursing his luck as his curving free kick from the edge of the box landed on the roof of the net.
India intensified their attack after the change of ends and Manvir Singh headed the ball past Maldives goalie Md. Faisal but it was off target.
The fate of the final was decided in the 67th minute with Maldives forward Ali Fasir scoring a beautiful goal. In a build up from their own yard Maldives midfielder Hamza Mohammed spun a neat through pass through the defence and Ali Fasir generated some notable speed to go past his marker and cut an angular placed shot in the far post (2-0).
India squandered a chance in the 80th minute with Manvir missing the line of a cross curved by Ashik Kuruniyan from the left flank. It just needed a tap but Manvir reacted late.
India scored their consolation in the stoppage time with Sumeet Passi scoring off a cross of Nikhil Pujari (2-1). The goal suiddenly brought life back to the game but Maldives managed to hold their fort and emerged as the champions.