Young stopper Arnab Mondal scored his maiden international goal as defending champion India defeated Maldives 1-0 to enter the final of the SAFF football championship for the ninth time here on Monday.
The victory, which Wim Koevermans’ boys achieved without skipper Sunil Chhetri, meant India made it to its fifth successive final in the tournament and will meet Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Mondal was a bundle of nerves throughout the match but turned out to be an unlikely hero in the end with a delightful strike. The winner came in the 85th minute when Mehtab Hossain’s corner from the right flank was neatly headed down by Syed Rahim Nabi and Mondal, who had joined the attack, struck a powerful angular right-footer that crashed into the net.
The final whistle saw some ugly scenes as Maldives substitute Ali Umar attacked referee Idham Mohammed and was red-carded after the match. But it did not stop there as a group of Maldives players attacked one of the organisers and police personnel had to intervene as things looked like getting out of hand.
Maldives’ striker Ali Ashfaq was tied down for most part of the match with India employing zonal marking with makeshift captain Gourmangi Singh giving a good account of himself.
Maldives created a bit of pressure from set-piece movements, giving some anxious moments to Indian custodian Subrata Paul. In the second minute, Maldives got a free-kick and Mohammed Sifan’s low delivery, which evaded the wall, saw Paul fumble while trying to gather it on the bounce.
The resultant attempt from forward Mohammed Umair went straight to the ‘keeper.
Another anxious moment came in the 27th minute when Ashfaq’s left-footed free-kick was nicely parried away by Paul.
It was a goalless first half but India played with some intent unlike its horrible show against Nepal.
Jeje Lalpeklhua, operating from wide left, tried to make inroads while Arata Izumi, in the central midfield, worked tirelessly, helping in build-ups and acting as a snatcher also.
The result: Semifinal: India 1 (Arnab Mondal 85) bt Maldives 0.