In three matches so far, Arnab Mondal hadn’t looked the surest of the four defenders. In the euphoria of his angular delight taking India to their fifth consecutive SAFF Championship final all that will be momentarily forgotten. Just as it should be.
Mondal has a knack for scoring crucial goals having got one to help East Bengal win the last Federation Cup in Siliguri.
His first international goal in five games for India came off a Mehtab Hossain corner-kick that Syed Rahim Nabi headed down and the ball hit a Maldives player. Maldives delayed in closing down the central defender and he buried a shot into the far corner before air-guitaring in delight.
“I would rate this as more important,” said Mondal when asked to compare the goals before leaving the Dasharath stadium pitch.
That India denied Maldives the chance to work the ball around with a disciplined all round team performance should give them a lot of confidence going into Wednesday’s final against Afghanistan. And Sunil Chhetri would be back.
“You don’t know how relieved I am today,” said Chhetri.
Maldives had a 72nd minute shout for penalty turned down by referee Idham Mohammad when Ali Ashfaq fell after a challenge from Subrata Pal. Ashfaq was booked for simulation. Till then, an overwhelming majority of 50-50 decisions had gone in Maldives’s favour.
Maldives players gheraoed the referee who then showed the red card to Ali Umair and Mohammed Rasheed. Maldives players were also seen attacking an official of the All Nepal Football Association who had kept their Istavan Urbanyi from talking to the referee after the game.
India didn’t deserve to win, said Maldives’ coach Istavan Urbanyi, a former Hungary international. That seemed like a bit of a self-goal because later he said India didn’t allow them to play.
“We couldn’t play our game due to India’s shape. With our physical ability, it got difficult,” said Urbanyi, adding that Maldives were denied a penalty when Ali Ashfaq was felled in the 72nd minute.
“You don’t have to kill the striker to get a penalty. Then, game over,” he said.
Urbanyi even said Ashfaq was denied another penalty after Arnab Mondal had scored.
And he ripped into the supervision in this competition while pointing out that Ashfaq was unfairly booked for simulation. “You give him a yellow for acting. Please referee, don’t make jokes.”
India coach Wim Koevermans was a lot more restrained in victory than his counterpart in defeat.
Yes, he was proud of the boys and said: “This is how good we can be. It was a disciplined performance. They were patient on the ball and in the second half moved forward better. We were deserving winners."