By Soubhik Ray
The Maldives - winners of the tournament in 2008 - were the better side on the day and had repeated attempts at the Bangladesh goal, including in the the very first minute of the game.
And Maldives striker Ahmed Thariq netted the first goal for his team within just 6 minutes of the game. The 27-year old put Maldives ahead with a stooping header at the far post after Mohammed Umair set him up with a delightful cross in from the right.
Maldives continued their domination in the game as skipper Ali Ashfaq provided a superb assist for Thariq to get his brace in the 17th minute. The Maldives skipper dribbled past several Bangladeshis before laying it on a plate for Thariq to make it 2-0.
With their semi-final hopes in peril, the Bangla Tigers went on the attack and made several forays into the Maldives half. Bangladesh missed a great chance to pull a goal back in the 21st minute after Emon Mahmud shot across the face of goal when he could have set up a team-mate instead.
Bangladesh did managed to pull one back in the 29th minute through Shahedul Alam Sahed. The Bangladeshi midfielder was left unguarded and he cooly chipped over the keeper after an assist from Md. Nasirul Islam.
Bangladesh poured forward in a bid to keep their title dreams alive, but could not find an equalizer. The closest they came was a wayward shot from Shahedul in the 63rd minute.
Bangladesh were then hit on the break as Ali Ashfaq punished their rivals by making it 3-1 in the 70th minute. The 27-year old broke free of Bangladesh's defence, then rounded the keeper to slot it into the empty net.
With their FIFA rankings at 142, Bangladesh were the best side at the SAFF but it amounted to nothing as they now exit the competition at the group stage. The Maldives topped the group with 5 points after the win.
Maldives now go into the semi-finals as Group B winners on 5 points while the second placed Nepal, who drew with Pakistan 1-1 earlier, also progress.
Bangladesh coach Nikola Ilievski rued the missed chances on the day: "We made big mistakes, and went 2-0 down. We had good chances but failed to convert. But Maldives were the better team."
When asked about the absence of some key players in the squad who were a part of the team when he took over, the Macedonian quipped, "Maradona played 25 years ago, but he does not anymore. These changes are normal."
Maldives coach Istvan Urbanyi was delighted to have qualified for the semis and was happy to have topped Group B.
" We played well today as Bangladesh was a strong opponent and we had to perform our best. They (Bangladesh) were very organized and we had some tough periods in the game," he said.
On being asked about his preferred choice as an opponent in the semis (India, Afghanistan or Sri Lanka), the Hungarian said: " I want my boys to play well in the semis, irrespective of the team we face. Sri Lanka are good, Afghanistan are the surprise element and India are the hosts and will be a tough opponent."
Maldives: Imran Mohammed, Asad Abdul Ghani, Mohamed Umair, Shafiu Ahmed, Ismail Mohamed (Houssain Niyaz Mphamed, 67th), Shamweel Qasim, Akram Abdul Gani, Mohamed Arif, Ibrahim Fazeel (Ali Fasir, 81st), Ali Ashfaq, Ahmed Thariq (Mohamed Sifan, 57th).
Bangladesh: Sahidul Alam, Nasirul Islam Nasir, Sujan, Mamun Miyah, Ariful Islam, Razaul Karim (Jahid Hassan Ameli, 46th), Pranotosh Kumer Das, Emon Mahmud (Towhidul Alam Tohid, 75th), Shahedul Alam Shahed, Abdul Maten Mojumder Komal, Mithun Chowdhury.