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Super Sunil ends slugfest

First there was hope, then doubt, followed by ecstasy and a spell of nail-biting moments before Sunil Chhetri landed the killer blow in a slugfest between the two regional heavyweights. Rohit Bhaskar reports.

sports Updated: Dec 09, 2011 23:43 IST
Rohit Bhaskar

First there was hope, then doubt, followed by ecstasy and a spell of nail-biting moments before Sunil Chhetri landed the killer blow in a slugfest between the two regional heavyweights.

Coming in the 90th minute, the diminutive striker's sixth goal of the tournament, which sees him tie IM Vijayan's record for most goals in a single edition, was certainly his most important.

A through ball from strike partner Jeje Lalpekhlua released Chhetri who evaded his marker before looking up and sending goalkeeper Imran Mojammed the wrong way with a calm placement.

The goal ended any hopes of The Maldives' comeback and sealed a nervy 3-1 win for the hosts to seal their progress to Sunday’s Saff Championships final at the JLN Stadium. In a repeat of their opening tie, India will play Afghanistan who beat Nepal 1-0 in the second semi.

India showed their intent from the outset, with a Clifford Miranda attempt in the second minute erasing any doubts about coach Savio Mederia's team adopting a cautious approach. Such enterprise was rewarded in the 25th minute as left-back Syed Rahim Nabi slotted home a Miranda cross showing a striker's instinct of following the ball till the end after it looped over Lalpekhlua.

India also benefited from the prolonged absence of Maldives' star striker Ali Ashfaq, who was off the field for 17 minutes, going back to the dressing room to receive treatment from the physio. The Maldives restored parity in the 59th minute with a cracking 25-yard piledriver from Shamweel Qasim.

The match was up for grabs again but all that changed in the 68th minute. A superb Miranda through ball released Chhetr, who was pulled down by a defender leaving referee Timur Faizullin with no option but to point to the spot. The Delhi-lad got up and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net. Maldives pushed for an equaliser but Chhetri exploited them to perfection to seal a thrilling win for India.