By Soubhik Ray
India secured their way into the SAFF Championship final after a 3-1 win over Maldives on Friday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, but Sunil Chhetri finding the net after a penalty awarded in the 70th minute was decisive, admits Indian coach Savio Medeira.
"After going down 1-0 in the first-half, Maldives were desperate for an equalizer. They were building up the pressure on us in the second-half and it was a matter of concern for our defence," accepted Medeira.
And as feared by Medeira, Maldives were successful in taking advantage of the chinks in the Indian defence as a strike from Shamweel Qasim made it 1-1 in the 60th minute and kept the 2008 SAFF champions in the hunt.
The 46-year-old Indian coach said, "We were up against a quality opposition tonight. But the penalty in the 70th minute was good news for us. And Chhetri made no mistake to make it 2-1."
Maldives coach Istavan Urbanyi was upset with the foul committed by defender Asad Abdul Gani which resulted in the penalty. "It was an unnecessary foul by Asad. And to make things worse, it was after we had grittily kept India in control for over an hour," he rued.
"In the first-half Ashfaq had injured himself and it ruined our strategy for the day. The 26-year-old striker was crucial in our plans for the day and there was none in the bench to substitute his calibre," said the Maldives coach.
It was a day when India's strike duo of Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhula ran havoc through the Maldives defence. Man of the match Chhetri scored a brace to take his tally to 6 goals from 4 matches and Jeje set up an assist and came close to securing several chances.
But the Maldives coach begged to differ on being asked if India's strike force dominated the game on Friday. "The first goal of the day was gifted to India by us. It was some poor defending on our side that made us go 1-0 down at the first-half," he said.
The Hungarian took pride in the performance of Maldives - a team that were crowned champions in 2008 and battled it at the semis this time at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
"I am proud of what my boys have achieved in this tournament. We had dominated India in the first-half and missed several chances to take the game in our stride. We were not at all overwhelmed by Chhetri and Jeje," Urbanyi said.
On being asked about his team's plans before the crucial final on Sunday, Medeira said, "Every match is different and has to be taken with a different outlook. We will have to make sure that we eliminate any mistakes in our team."
"On the day of the game it is the team with lesser number of mistakes that wins it. We will see the tapes of our boys and make corrections in the game plan. And it will be up to our boys to continue their good show and take the final in their stride," signed off Medeira with a smile on his face.
By Soubhik Ray