The Indian football team capped a dominant 2-0 performance against the Maldives to seal their passage into the semi-finals of the South Asian Football Federation Cup in Bangladesh. Goals from Nikhil Poojary and Manvir Singh meant India topped the group with six points in two games played, and they will now face fierce arch-rivals Pakistan on Wednesday for a place in the finals.
After outclassing Sri Lanka 2-0 in the opening match, the Men in Blue were the favorites going against minnows Maldives. Ashique Kuruniyan and Lallianzuala Chhangte notched their names on the scoresheet in the previous encounter and were expected to repeat their performances in the next game.
However, head coach Stephen Constantine opted to rest Ashique Kuruniyan, while Lallianzuala Chhangte was named in the starting eleven. The winger paid off the manger's decision by putting on a stellar show on the flanks which stretched the Maldivian defense for major chunks of the game.
Nikhil Poojary came close to breaking the deadlock as early in the 11th minute with his header from an Anirudh Thapa cross. Though, the striker's glancing effort failed to trouble the opposition keeper as it sailed over the bar.
Indian kept piling the pressure on the Maldivian defense in their attempt to find the breakthrough. Their patience paid off in the 36th minute when Nikhil Poojary opened the scoring after a great piece of interplay with Farukh Choudhary, who set up the Pune City FC striker on goal. Nikhil made no mistake this time as he calmly slotted the ball past the opposition keeper.
Post that goal, India looked more confident on the ball and started attacking with great intent. Just before the stroke of half-time, Manvir Singh doubled India's lead giving them a comfortable cushion heading into the break. This time the genius behind the goal was Chennaiyin FC's midfield prodigy, Anirudh Thapa. The young midfielder breezed past a couple of Maldivian players, before producing a defense-splitting pass to find the unmarked Manvir. The striker brilliantly rounded off the onrushing opposition keeper and slotted home to extend India's lead.
The second-half was more of a mellow affair. The Indian attack looked to defend their lead and looked threatening on the counter. Meanwhile, Maldives were trying really hard to reduce the deficit, but the alert Indian defense made sure their attacks were kept at bay.
Indian will now lock horns with arch-rivals Pakistan after a gap of five years. The last time these two sides met was in 2013 during the SAFF Championship, where India emerged 1-0 victors in that clash.