The Indian men’s football team reached the SAFF Championship final after beating Maldives in a comfortable 3-1 win at the Maldives National Stadium in Male on Wednesday.
The side’s talismanic captain Sunil Chhetri struck a match-winning brace and in the process became the leading goal scorer in this year’s tournament with four goals. He was also named the man of the match.
Chhetri’s two goals took him beyond Brazilian legend Pele and he is now just one short of Lionel Messi’s goal tally of 80 international goals.
AS IT HAPPENED | SAFF Championship 2021: India 3-1 Maldives HIGHLIGHTS
The Blue Tigers took the lead through Manvir Singh, who rifled the ball into the top right corner with a powerful right-footed strike in the 33rd minute. However, a penalty after Pritam Kotal’s challenge on Hamza Mohamed allowed Maldives to equalise as Ali Ashfaq made it all square from the spot.
Chhetri put India in the ascendancy with a magnificent volley in the 62nd minute and doubled his goal tally with another goal in the 71st minute as he nodded home Kotal’s cross.
The match was also marked with a number of bookings, with two members of the Indian contingent – Subhasish Bose and head coach Igor Stimac – being sent off towards the end of the game.
This year’s tournament was transformed into a round-robin format for the final position after Pakistan was suspended by FIFA and Bhutan refused to release its players.
India has remained undefeated in this edition, having earlier played out draws with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and then beating Nepal. The side will now look for its eight SAFF Championship title when it takes on first-time finalist Nepal in Sunday’s final.
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