Maldives emerge group champ | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, December 09, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 09, 2009

Bangabandhu SAFF Championship

Maldives emerge group champ

Bangladesh face India in 2nd semifinal

Maldives' exciting playmaker Ashfaq Ali (R) tries to con an India defender during the final group league match of the Sixth SAFF Championship at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday. Maldives won the match 2-0 to emerge top from Group A. The emerald islanders will take on Sri Lanka in the first semifinal while India face hosts Bangladesh in the mouthwatering second semi on Friday. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Reigning champions Maldives handed a 2-0 defeat to 10-man India to complete the semfinal lineup of the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship in the final Group A clash at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
With two wins and a draw, Maldives emerged as Group A champions to set up their semifinal clash against Group B runners-up Sri Lanka. Hosts Bangladesh, who emerged Group B champions, will take on Group A runners-up India.
Both semifinals are billed for Friday.
Ahmed Thoriq put Maldives, who needed a draw to see them into the last four after Nepal increased their goal average with a 3-0 win over Afghanistan in the day's first fixture, ahead in the 16th minute while Fazeel Ibrahim ensured the rout striking eight minutes from time after India were reduced to 10 men in the last 30 minutes.
Despite resting five players from the match against Nepal, the three-time champions India, who had earlier confirmed their semfinal berths with two successive victories against Afghanistan and Nepal, never looked comfortable against a side to whom their senior side lost 1-0 in the final of the last edition of the SAFF Championship.
They could hardly split a desperate Maldives' backline and went down in the 16th minute as Maldives captain Ashfaq Ali darted in the box from the right to release a cute minus for unmarked Thoriq, who blasted home from the edge of the eight-yard box to give the islanders a lead and raise his tally to three in as many matches.
Maldives dominated the midfield with their crisp passing and better movement centering around playmaker Ashfaq, but they suddenly lost possession in the midfield and India nearly levelled the margin in the latter part of the first half.
Noaba Singh ran down the right to advance into the danger zone before he saw Maldives goalkeeper Mohamed Imran tip a well-judged lob over the crosspiece in the 33rd minute.
In the stoppage time of the first half, India should have equalised the margin when Balwant Singh got the better of the Maldives goalkeeper inside the box, but the winger sent his shot wide of the near post to disappoint a second-string Indian side.
After the resumption, Maldives played more attacking football to increase their lead as if they were trailing, though their first-half lead was enough to take them to the semfinals and Ashfaq almost doubled the margin 10 minutes into the second half.
Availing a long-ball, Ashfaq, shrugging off his marker advanced into the box to release a grounder, but his shot at the near post went wide.
Afterwards, Balwant was sent off for his second bookable offence and India were reduced to 10 men after 60 minutes.
With one man short, India never adopted the defensive mood, but chose the aerial route though it had a little impact on the Maldives backline.
Ashfaq, the liveliest player of the match, again threatened India hitting the side netting in 78th minute and almost yielded another chance four minutes later, but this time the Indian second-choice goalkeeper Laxmikantha saved it for a corner.
Following the ensuring corner taken by Ashfaq, Laxmikantha failed to grip it properly and the ball went to Fazeel, who volleyed the follow-up home in the 83rd minute.
"The boys were a bit shaky in the start of the tournament, but they have been gaining confidence gradually and I think they played much better today compared to the previous matches and I am happy with the effort the boys put on today," said Maldives coach Urbanyi Istavan Bela.
"We did not get a good start, but we came back in the second half, but again went on the backfoot after being reduced to 10 men," said Indian coach Sukhvinder Singh, who, however, saw no justification to send off Balwant Singh.
Rowilson Rolando Rodriguez, Ravinder Singh, Baldeep Singh, Thokehom Noaba Singh (Subodh Kumar), Balwant Singh, Je Je Lalphekhula (Jagtar Singh), Jibon Singh, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Denxil Michael Franco, Laximkanth Kattimani and Jewel Rana Shaikh.
Maldives: Umair Mohamed, Fazeel Ibrahim, Arif Mahamed, Ashfaq Ali (Umair Ali) Ahmed Thoriq (Ali Assad), Jemeel Mahmood, Gasim Shamweel, Abdul Ghani Akram, Naseer Mukhtar, Mohamed Imran and Ibrahim Sobah.
Red Card: Balwant Singh (India)
Yellow card: Ashfaq Ali (Maldives).
Referee: Pieres Laksiri (Sri Lanka)

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