SAFF Championship 2018: India trump Maldives to set semis clash with Pakistan
India finished as winners of Group B after beating the Maldives 2-0 in their final group game of the 2018 SAFF Championship at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sunday.
Nikhil Poojary (36') opened the scoring while Manvir Singh (44') doubled the lead right before the break to help India finish with six points and set up a semi-final date with Group A runners-up Pakistan.
Stephen Constantine made five changes from their 2-0 win over Sri Lanka. Davinder Singh, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Vinit Rai, Nikhil Poojary and Manvir Singh came in for Sarthak Golui, Mohammed Sajid Dhot, Germanpreet Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Sumeet Passi.
Maldives made three alterations of their won after their goalless display with the Lankans. Asadhulla Abdulla, Ibrahim Mahudhee and Ahmed Imaaz replaced Ali Fasir, Naiz Hassan and Hamzath Mohamed.
Nikhil Poojary could have turned architect and scorer of two goals within the first fifteen minutes itself. First, Mohammed Arif headed the ball into his own post, nearly escaping an own goal which was a result of Poojary's initial cross.
Skipper Anirudh Thapa, from the edge of the box, fed a ball to the former East Bengal man whose header sailed over the bar.
The 23-year-old made amends and got the opener. Poojary, making his first competitive start since an ACL injury sidelined him since October 2017 won the ball near the touchline and made a solo run towards goal. A swift one-two with Farukh Choudhary and the winger scored his maiden India goal.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Manvir Singh too got his first goal for the nation. The Maldives defence faltered and Thapa saw an opportunity to pass forward to the FC Goa man. The striker rounded up the 'keeper and slotted home into an empty net.
Maldives were insipid and the gulf in class showed as India kept on gifting set-piece opportunities but Petar Segrt' men failed to capitalise throughout the whole game.
Late into the game, substitute Sumeet Passi could have made it 3-0 but his powerful header from Subhasish Bose's cross went agonisingly wide.
Both Maldives and Sri Lanka were tied in Group B in terms of points and goal difference. In the end, a coin toss decided the fate of those two teams as Maldives advanced into the semi-finals.
The final-four games take place on Wednesday at the same venue. Nepal play Maldives first up at 4.00 PM local time while the Indo-Pak tie gets underway at 7.30 PM local time.