Two debutants were on the score-line as India beat Maldives 2-0 to book a semi-final berth in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup in Dhaka on Sunday.
Nikhil Poojary (36th) and Manvir Singh (45th) scored the goals, both in the first half, helping India top Group B with six points from two matches. They had earlier beaten Sri Lanka 2-0 in the opening match.
India started well and was dominant throughout the match. Nikhil came close to scoring in the11th minute, but his header off an Anirudh Thapa cross sailed just over the bar.
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But he was not to be denied in the 36th minute, when a quick one-two with Farukh Choudhary, set Nikhil clear on goal with only rival goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal to beat.
Manvir then doubled India’s lead at the stroke of half time. Thapa voted the country’s best young footballer of the year, found the striker with a gem of a pass, from which Manvir sidestepped Maldives custodian Faisal before slotting the ball into an empty net.
India, however, could have scored more and had an acrobatic Faisal not denied Nikhil in the 64th minute, the game could have been over there.
Maldives on the other increased their pace in a bid to pull at-least one back but failed to breach the tough Indian defence.
They came close in the 73rd minute but left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala was at hand to intercept the ball before the opposition could aim a shot on goal.
Goalkeeper Vishal Keith then came off his line for a quick clearance in the 78th minute. He also made a couple of fine saves in the final minutes of play to prevent Maldives any chance of sniffing a comeback into the match.
It was Keith’s second clean slate in the competition after the Sri Lanka match.
Meanwhile, India next plays Pakistan in the semi-finals, in what would be the first official match between both the teams after a gap of five years. The last time India-Pakistan faced each other was also in a SAFF Cup match in Kathmandu, 2013, in which India edged Pakistan out 1-0.