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Chhetri puts India in final

sports Updated: Aug 08, 2008 01:15 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Abhijeet Kulkarni
Hindustan Times
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Given the ground conditions at the Gachibowli stadium, both India and Myanmar would have prayed for a safe end to the game. The pitch was mushy and generated uneven bounce. Add to that, in the first half, the players had to endure heavy downpour.

So, the AFC Challenge Cup semifinal between the two neighbours was reduced to a muddy slugfest from a potential blockbuster. The rain left puddles all over the ground as both teams struggled to sew up decent moves in the second half. It was left to the experience of India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia to create an opening for Sunil Chhetri in the 82nd minute that put the hosts into their third final in 12 months.

In the other semifinal, defending champions Tajikistan rode on Dzhomikhon Muhidnov's 39th minute header to upset DPR Korea 1-0 in a charged up encounter and set up a final date with the Indians on Sunday that will give the winner a direct passage to the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar. This match witnessed scuffle between the sides and only timely intervention by the officials could prevent an escalation.

Bhutia received the ball at the top of the box, sold a dummy to defender Moe Win and put the ball across for Chhetri. The latter controlled the ball with his first header and then beat the onrushing Aung Aung Oo with the next.

Chhetri, who had missed two chances, breathed a sigh of relief. The first chance was squandered in the 42nd minute when Surkumar Singh put the striker through.

Chhetri had just the goalkeeper to beat but shot wide from inside the box.

The stocky striker got another chance to put the hosts ahead in the 68th minute when the ball fell in his lap just outside the six-yard box. But he shot over the crossbar.

India coach Bob Houghton credited the victory to team morale. "We can speak nothing on the technical aspects of the game today. Rain did not allow any one to play. It was the spirit shown by the players that has seen us through."

The conditions came under the scanner from Myanmar coach Marcos Falopa who felt that referee Tayeb Hasan Shamsuzzaman of Bangladesh should have stopped the game after the ground conditions went from bad to worse.

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