Two sensational goals from Manvir Singh and an incisive header from super-sub Sumeet Passi helped the defending champions India storm past their arch-rivals Pakistan 3-1 in the semi-finals to secure passage into the finals of the SAFF Suzuki Cup in Bangladesh on Wednesday.
India were the favorites coming into this fixture courtesy of their outstanding run of form. The Men in Blue outclassed Sri Lanka 2-0 in their opening fixture, followed by a 2-0 rout of minnows Maldives that saw them top their group with maximum points.
Given the Indian football team's smooth sailing so far, the semi-final against their arch-rivals Pakistan wasn't going to be a walk in the park. The clash certainly lived up to its billing with both teams going toe-to-toe against each other till the final whistle.
First half was a cagey affair with the Indian team dominating for major portions, while Pakistan looked to defend and attack on the counter. India suffered the only scare in the first half when Pakistan were awarded an indirect free-kick at the edge of the 6-yard box, which was averted by the Indian goalkeeper Vishal Kaith.
After a goalless first half, the Indians looked fresh after the interval and started to attack with more intent. Their efforts were rewarded in the starting few minutes of the second-half with Manvir Singh breaking the deadlock in the 49th minute. The goal came off a brilliant run down the left-flank made by Ashique Kuruniyan, who unleashed a low cross which was coolly guided by Manvir Singh to send the Indian fans berserk.
The second goal was even better as it exemplified brilliant team-play. Lallianzuala Chhangte, who replaced Nikhil Poojary in the 68th minute made an immediate impact as India doubled its advantage. The pacey forward made a blistering run through the middle of the pitch before unleashing a defense-splitting pass for Manvir Singh, who blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
Unfortunately, Manvir Singh couldn't bag his hat-trick after he was withdrawn following a harsh tackle from a Pakistani defender. Sumeet Passi replaced the injured striker, and he took no time to join the party as he found the target in the 83rd minute. The Jamshedpur FC forward scored a delightful header after a well-crafted cross from Ashique Kuruniyan to give India a comfortable three-goal cushion.
However, India received a setback after Lallianzuala Chhangte was shown red after an alteration with a Pakistani player. Both teams were down to 10-men after both the players received their marching orders.
Pakistan pegged one back late in the game through Hassan Bashir, but it was too late as India held on to their lead to storm into the finals of the SAFF Suzuki Cup. India will now face Maldives in the summit clash on September 15.