Mukhtar’s strike seals India’s fate
Mukhtar Naseer's last gasp goal upset the Indian applecart as Maldives beat the defending champions 1-0 to win their first SAFF Championship title at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo tonight.
Inspired by the presence of their President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom and first lady Nasrina Ibarhim, the Maldives players defended well before delivering a late blow to beat the Bhaichung Bhutia-led side by the solitary goal. This was the first SAFF Championship title for Maldives.
In the floodlit final which never rose to any great height, India's goal-shy forwards once again let down the side and the defence too crumbled towards the end to allow Mukhtar score the winner. The Indian defence had just cleared Ismail Mohammad's header off a Mukhtar pass before Mukhtar raided their citadel again when the match was into its 87th minute. Mukhtar stormed into the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful shot that beat Indian custodian Subrata Paul all ends up. This was a sweet revenge for the winners who were beaten 1-0 by the Indians in a league match earlier. India started their title defence on a positive note and could have gone up in the opening minute when Mohamed Jameel fouled Bhutia just outside the penalty area but the Indian skipper's free kick sailed over the bar. Maldives soon responded in the eight minute but Subrata Paul came to India's rescue as he thwarted away Ismail's powerful right-footer. There was nothing much to differentiate between the two sides in terms of ball possession in the opening half. To add to that, apart from a few on and off chances, action was more or less restricted to the midfield and both the teams lacked finishing.
The game did not rise to a great hight in the second half either. India got a couple of chances but once Sunil Chetri's header flew over the bar and on another occasion, his shot was blocked by a Maldives defender.
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