SAFF Championship 2018: Maldives shock India in final to lift title

The Red Snappers won their second title after they beat heavyweights and overwhelming favourites India 2-1 in the final...

Madives were crowned the winners of the 2018 SAFF (Championship) Cup after they beat India 2-1 in the final at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Saturday.

Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain (19') and Ali Fasir (66') scored in either half while substitute Sumeet Passi (90+2') got a late consolation for Stephen Constantine's U-23 side as the Red Snappers won their second ever SAFF title, after 2008.

Both sides banked on the same eleven which started their respective semi-finals. For the defending champions, Lallianzuala Chhangte remained suspended for his red card in their 3-1 win over Pakistan. Petar Segrt chose to keep faith with young Hasan Naiz, fresh off a 3-0 thrashing of Nepal.

There was hardly any excitement on display in the first quarter of an hour, given it was a final. Both teams seemed to test each other out as Mahudhee Hussain had even attempted a cross that embarrassingly floated out of play, aptly summing up the period.

However, Mahudhee Hussain did not let that sight of him remain for much longer as he broke the deadlock soon. India were taken aback as Maldives started a swift counter-attack, Naiz broke down the right and found the 25-year-old on the edge of the box.

Vishal Kaith's decision to come off his line stung him as the TC Sports Club man chipped the ball home over the 'keeper from an acute angle, much to the dismay of the Indian fans.

India got a few sniffs to score the equaliser around the half-hour mark. Ashique Kuruniyan's skilled dribble past three men on the left channel and a subsequent pass was shot by Farukh Choudhury but Akram Ghanee saw it out for a corner.

Manvir Singh, who scored a brace in the semi-final missed twice inside the box. His header was first blocked by Ali Samooh but the FC Goa man only managed to graze the outside side-netting as the loose ball then fell back to him.

Maldives suffered a small blow as skipper Akram Ghanee had to be stretchered out in the 38th minute with Ahmed Numaan taking his place. Counterpart Subhasish Bose was cautioned in the dying embers of the first period for a rash aerial challenge on Ibrahim Waheed Hassan.

A visibly upset Constantine spruced it up as he sacrificed a defender for midfielder Germanpreet Singh post the break. The Chennaiyin FC man immediately took a wild swipe which left his teammates rather flummoxed, given the range.

Akram Ghanee who was subbed out earlier was shown a yellow card as he filled the referee's ear with too much dirt, protesting a free-kick given against Ali Fasir from the bench.

India tried to show some urgency but lacked the finishing touch in the final third. Even after winning umpteen number of corners, the Blue Tigers were pretty poor inside the box.

While India committed more men forward, Maldives were happy to let go of possession and defend in numbers - a trick which frustrated the Indian attack and paid ultimate dividends.

The Indian defence was caught napping and shamelessly allowed Ali Fasir, to zoom past a high line of five men to hit the final nail on the coffin.

Hamzath Mohamed showed immense poise to cut through the centre of the park as the 30-year-old found a glaring gap between Sarthak Golui and Salam Ranjan Singh to run 30 yards and slice the ball into the net past Kaith.
 
Sumeet Passi was brought on immediately after but Maldives kept on holding their fort strong. Kuruniyan once came close as his attempt grazed the side-netting and Bose had an opportunity from a corner that went begging.

It was only in injury time that Maldives faced a serious challenge inside the box. Nikhil Poojary delivered the ball across the face of goal and Passi guided the ball past Faisal, despite it being too little, too late.

India's U-23 side who breezed past this same team a week ago failed to grasp the game from the very onset and ended up handing the trophy to Maldives.