The missed opportunities could have easily come back to haunt India but it didn’t as the Blue Tigers held on to record a 3-2 win over Maldives and enter their 10th SAFF Cup final at the Greenfield Stadium on Thursday.
Jeje Lalpekhlua scored a double and captain Sunil Chhetri chipped in with one as the hosts survived some anxious moments before getting over the line. With his 25th minute strike, which was also India’s opener, Chhetri equalled Bhaichung Bhutia’s tally of 12 goals in SAFF.
Jeje is an enigma. One moment he delights you with some clinical finishing, the very next he leaves you holding your head in frustration.
It was no different on Thursday, as he displayed both sides of his game. In the end, his two goals proved crucial for India as they reached the final.
It has been the case with Jeje ever since he broke into the India team in 2011. He was off the mark in a flash, scoring eight goals in his first 10 matches before hitting a lean patch.
This year, he is getting back into the groove. A good season with the Chennaiyin in the ISL has seen him rediscover his scoring touch. Coach Stephen Constantine feels he could do better, considering the good position he is getting into and the chances that are coming his way.
The Englishman has persisted with him in the second stint and hopes he delivers on a regular basis, which will take some pressure off Sunil Chhetri.
India once again looked scratchy in the beginning before taking control. They dominated possession and created many chances but couldn’t convert them. Maldives could have easily hit back but they failed to do so. Unlike India, the Maldives didn’t create many opportunities but converted the couple of chances they got.
Constantine admitted that India made it look much closer than it should have been. “We dominated the game from start to finish. On another day we could have scored five or six goals. If we had done that, we could have avoided the anxiety that we had towards the end. If you don’t take your chances, you are punished and that’s exactly what Maldives did,” he said. Seeking their seventh regional title, India will have to be much tighter in the final.
“We have a young team. I hope that we fix the mistakes that we made today. We didn’t make many mistakes before this match. We have to be careful in the final if we have to win,” he added.
Maldives didn’t create many chances but made India pay for their shoddy defence, with Ahmed Nashid and Amdaan Ali scoring the two goals.