Nepal once again failed to break their semifinal curse in the SAFF Suzuki Cup as they suffered a 3-0 defeat against Maldives in the first semifinal at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Captain Akram Abdul Ghanee put Maldives early in the match before Ibrahim Hassan Waheed scored a late brace to break the hearts of the Himalayan nation, who were desperately seeking to make it to their maiden final following their spirited show in the group-stages.
Maldives made it to the final for the fifth time, but their first in nine years. Interestingly the Islanders had played their last SAFF Championship final at this ground in 2009. They were eliminated from the semifinals on the last three occasions -- every time losing against India.
Nepal were tipped favourites in this match for the way they played against Pakistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh, but the men from the Himalayas, who played four semifinals before, failed to replicate that form on a rain-soaked pitch.
They looked short of confidence after conceding the lead in the ninth minute when Ghanee saw his curling free-kick from the edge of the box beat the Nepal goalkeeper after a clever dummy from a Maldives forward.
The match was suspended for 30 minutes due to thunderstorm, but Nepal were barely able to make their presence felt once the game restarted, despite creating a few scoring chances. It was Maldives though who dominated the show and Waheed's goals in the 84th and 86th minutes broke the Nepalese hearts, a repeat of the result from 19 years ago.
“We had a good opportunity to reach the final for first time as we played some good football in the group stages but today it was hard luck for us as our players are not used to playing on such slippery pitch and they were not comfortable on this rain-soaked ground. Besides, the break for the rain also destroyed our rhythm. We made tactical changes in the second half but it did not work,” Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan said at the post-match briefing.
“Nepal played well but we scored even though the match was very difficult for us,” said Maldives coach Peter Segrt, who took Afghanistan to the final in the last edition in India.