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India book SAFF Suzuki Cup semi-final clash with Pakistan

India U-23 national team at the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
India U-23 national team at the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018. Photo courtesy: AIFF Media

India defeated Maldives 2-0 to book a semi-final clash with arch rivals Pakistan in the SAFF Suzuki Cup. The semi-final which will be the first official meeting of the two teams after a gap of 5 years will be played at Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Stadium on Wednesday (September 12, 2018).

The last time the two teams had met in an official match was also in a SAFF Championship in Kathmandu in September 2013. India had won 1-0 on that occasion.

On Sunday (September 9), maiden International goals from Nikhil Poojary (36th) and Manvir Singh (45th) helped India to finish on pole position in Group B on 6 points.

Nikhil could have scored the opener in the 11th minute itself but despite getting all the power behind his header off a Anirudh Thapa cross, it sailed over.

Nikhil and Lallianzuala Chhangte were constantly swapping positions on the wings and that stretched the rival defence. India eventually surged into the lead in the 36th minute. Nikhil played a one-two with Farukh and as the rival defender despite intercepting it fumbled a bit, Nikhil pounced on the loose ball and placed it delectably past the rival Goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal.

Manvir doubled the lead almost at the stroke of interval. Thapa, a bit off-balanced with a rival midfielder shadowing him, managed to essay a gem of a pass for Manvir who sidestepped the onrushing Faisal and pushed it in.

Changing over, Nikhil stayed a constant threat to the Maldives defence all throughout. In the 64th minute, a cross from him down the right was averted by an acrobatic Faisal.

Maldives, meanwhile, continued to look to reduce the margin and had not Jerry Lalrinzuala intercepted in time in the 73rd minute, they could have had a shot at the Indian goal.

The Indian defenders didn’t allow them much space to manoeuvre. In the 78th minute an alert Indian Goalkeeper Vishal Kaith was quick to come off his line, in fact, outside the box to clear in time. Kaith’s reflexes allowed India to maintain a clean slate, the lanky custodian coming up with a couple of saves in the last five minutes.

(AIFF Media)