Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Chhetri double takes India to SAFF final

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NEW DELHI: Star striker Sunil Chhetri struck twice as holders India defeated Maldives 3-1 in an entertaining semifinal to book a berth in the summit clash of the SAFF Football Championship on Friday.

Chhetri scored in the 69th and 90th minute after Syed Rahim Nabi had given India the lead in the 24th. Shamweel Qasim was the scorer for Maldives as he found the net in the 60th minute at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

For India, seeking their sixth title in the tournament, this is their eighth entry into the final out of nine editions.

Chhetri, who had returned from a five-day trial stint at Glasgow Rangers just before the tournament, took the game away from Maldives, winners in 2008, by scoring two goals after both sides were locked 1-1 till the 68th minute.

India dominated for most part of the first half, which they led 1-0, though Maldives threatened to restore parity.

Savio Medeira’s boys got at least three chances in the fist half.

The incessant pressure yielded India’s goal in the 24th minute from a dead ball situation. Clifford Miranda floated a free-kick for India in the 24th minute and a leaping Jeje could not reach for it. But Nabi’s outstretched right leg touched the ball which hit the back of the net.

Maldives dominated the early part of the second session and found the equaliser around the hour mark with Akram Abdul Gani firing a scorching right-footer after Shamweel Qasim found himself free inside the box to roll in a pinpoint grounded pass.

India took the lead against the run of play with Chhetri converting from the spot after his legs were clipped inside the box by a falling Mohammed Umair.

After referee Timur Faizullin pointed to the dreaded spot, Chhetri cooly stepped himself up to send the ball to the left of Maldives goalkeeper and into the net, much to the celebration of a sparse 2000-odd crowd.

Thanks to the strike, the Indians looked a confident lot again and were finding the gaps in the opposition defence, as Maldives went for an all-out attack to find the equaliser. Just at the stroke of regulation time, Jeje sent a low pass to Chhetri in between two defenders and the latter collected the ball and sent it past the advancing goalkeeper. (PTI)

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