India scrape past Bhutan, face Maldives in SAFF Cup final(LEAD with quotes)

June 11th, 2008 - 11:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Male/Colombo, June 11 (IANS) Defending champions India will face the Maldives in the title clash of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo, Saturday. In the first semi-final at the National Stadium in Male, India scraped past Bhutan 2-1, while a solitary strike from Ali Ashfaq helped the Maldives defeat hosts Sri Lanka in the second match of the day at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo.

A last-gasp goal in the extra time by Gourmangi Singh saw India move into the final with a 2-1 win over lowly-ranked Bhutan.

It is indeed a creditable of Bhutan to have scored first and then taken the match to the wire. The regulation time ended in 1-1 with Kenley Dorjee putting Bhutan up in the 20th minute and ten minutes later Sunil Chettri firing in the equaliser.

The keenly contested battle appeared to be heading for a shoot-out when Gourmangi came up with the winner, lobbing an Anwar’s header over goalkeeper Jigme Singme in a scramble.

Bhutan, ranked 196th in the world, were handful for the Indians and with a little luck they could have upset the subcontinental champions. They may have lost, but certainly not disgraced. They also shattered the myth of India’s superiority in the region.

The Bhutanese not only outsprinted the Indians, but also excelled in their immaculate passing, strikers Nima Sangay and Kenley often sidestepping Indian defenders. But poor finishing was their undoing.

Bhutan’s Japanese coach Koji Goyotoku, who had predicted a close and hard-fought game, was bang on money. They fought all the way and the sigh of relief on Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s face when the final whistle was blown said it all.

“It was really a bad performance from. We failed to convert the numerous chances that came our way. In the final we can’t afford to miss such chances,” Bhutia told IANS after the match.

It was easily one of the most unimpressive performances from the Indians, ranked 153. There was hardly any cohesive move and plenty of aimless punting and mispassing.

Surprisingly, Bhaichung and Chettri could not knit any worthwhile goal-bearing move. To be fair to the Indian captain, he was heavily policed by the Bhutanese defenders. The rugged midfield hardly helped matters, though the hard-working N.P. Pradeep should have scored at least on five occasions, but for his wayward attempts. Bhutia, too, missed a sitter in the last quarter. Earlier in the first session, Chhetri was guilty of muffing an easy chance.

Bhutia was surprised by Bhutan’s performance and said: “They should get the credit and I think they have improved. Their defence was good and we had a tough time.”

The Bhutanese stunner came as they took the Indians completely by surprise in the 20th minute through a counter attack. An unmarked Kenley had little difficulty in putting it past a clumsy Subroto Paul in the goal,the ball going under his arm.

After conceding the goal, India stepped up their attack and found the equaliser within ten minutes through Chettri, who shot in from a clever pass from Pradeep.

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