A resurgent Maldives stormed into the final of the 12th SAFF Championship when they beat an in-form Nepal side by 3-0 goals in the first semi-final at the Bangbandhu National Stadium on Wednesday.
Striker Ibrahim Hassan Waheed scored a brace while captain Akram Abdul Ghanee scored the other goal to send the Islanders into the final of South Asia’s most prestigious football tournament for the fifth time in history.
Maldives, who failed to score a single goal in the group stage and reached the last four of the competition by virtue of coin toss, appeared to be a totally different side against Nepal.
The Islanders created a series of attacks in the first half-an-hour that left Nepal with no space to organise their game.
Akram Ghanee gave the Maldivians a deserving lead in the ninth minute of the game when his low free-kick from just outside the box bounced in front of Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Kumar and entered into the net.
Play remained suspended for 33 minutes due to rain and thunderstorm helping Nepal to regroup but they were unable to find the equalizer.
Bharat Khawas wasted a great opportunity in the 39th minute by sending the ball wide from a close range after Bimal Gharti Magar’s initial effort from the right side of the box was denied by Maldives keeper Mohamed Faisal.
Maldives almost doubled the lead at the start of second half when Naiz Hassan ran past his marker after a fine through from Ibrahim, but his shot was saved by onrushing Kiran Kumar.
Bimal saw his header from the edge of the box was deflected by a Maldives defender but Faisal was there to grip it in the 62nd minute.
Maldives started playing a counter-attack based football that bore fruit in the 84th minute as Waheed doubled the margin with a placing shot following an Asadullah Abdullah cross from the right flank.
The young striker completed the rout with his second goal of the day just three minutes later when Hamza Mohamed provided him with a short pass and Waheed made no mistake by prodding the ball past an onrushing Nepal keeper.
Maldives’ Croatia-born German coach Petar Segrt, who came under-fire from the country’s media for choosing young guns ahead of senior players, hoped that the people of Maldives should now be happy.
‘I’m happy and I believe all the people of Maldives will be happy with the win,’ Segrt said.
‘First of all it was a difficult match and Nepal were better from the beginning but we scored the goal.
‘During the break I told my boys that one goal was not enough. We have to score more goals to get out from the game as winners.’
Nepal coach Balgopal Maharjan couldn’t hide his frustration after a defeat.
‘I am really upset with the defeat as we had a big chance to make it to the final,’ said Nepal coach.
‘The first goal from the free-kick was the turning point in the game. Our boys tried very hard to return to the game but they couldn’t score.
‘However, I’m really happy with the performance of my charges as they battled hard but it was not their day.’
Maldives 3 (Akram Ghanee 9, Ibrahim Hassan 84, 87) v Nepal 0