DHAKA: Pakistan’s journey at the SAFF Suzuki Cup has ended, prolonging their bid to reach the final of South Asia’s premier cup competition by another two years. The semi-final proved too high a hurdle to cross for Pakistan once again as Jose Antonio Nogueira’s men fell 3-1 to arch-rivals India at the Bangabandhu Stadium on Wednesday.
Manvir Singh struck twice in the second half before Sumeet Passi clinically headed home a pass as defending champions India, playing an Under-23 side at the tournament, breezed past their arch-rivals to set up a final against the Maldives on Saturday. Maldives made short work of Nepal 3-0 in the first semi-final.
After a goalless first-half, Manvir scored his first in the 49th minute only to double the score-line 20 minutes later. Substitute Passi sealed the fate of the match in the 83rd before Hassan Bashir reduced the margin for Pakistan in the 88th.
Both the teams were reduced to 10 men in the 86th minute when Mohsin Ali of Pakistan and Lalianzuala Changte were shown direct red cards for a brawl among themselves. Changte punched Pakistani forward Hasan Basheer after a foul and Mohsin came running from behind to push Changte.
This is the 11th time India have reached the final. India have won the tournament a record seven times. For Pakistan, meanwhile, it is the fifth time they have lost at the semi-final stage of the tournament.
“It was an important game in three years,” said Denmark-based striker Hassan, referring to the off-field turmoil that has seen Pakistan football suffering since 2015. “We played a brave game and I think it’s a new team and of course India have a better team at this point but we will be back.”
In a lively opening first quarter of the hour, Pakistan were the first to open the opponent’s defence. In the seventh minute, Hassan cut an angular grounder from the right edge of the box forcing Indian custodian Vishal Kaith to stretch to his limit to grip the ball.
India reacted quickly with two counterattacks with Manvir Singh diving forward to head a low cross of Ashique Kuruniyan that went straight to Pakistan goalie Yousuf Butt before Vinit Rai saw his 25 yarder punched for a corner in the following minute.
India were more enterprising after that and Yousuf had to be alert to in the 24th to deny Manvir who placed a cut back to the far post before pulling out another acrobatic punch on a rasping drive of Ashique two minutes later.
India survived a scare in the 39th minute when Pakistan earned an indirect free-kick at the edge of the six-yard box but Kaith came up with back to back saves to deny Pakistan. They were lucky again in added time when Hassan’s header on a cross of Saddam Hussain beat Kaith in the air but went over.
“We couldn’t score in the first half and we were unlucky,” said Pakistan’s Brazilian coach Nogueira after the match. “India scored within five minutes of the second half and we tried to get back but we couldn’t.”
India’s first goal came off a brilliant counter-attack. Ashique ran past everyone down the left and unleashed a low cross which was gleefully tapped in by Manvir to set the Indian fans berserk.
If that was good, the second goal was even better. Chhangte who replaced Nikhil Poojary in the 68th minute made an immediate impact. The super-sub made a blistering run down the middle of the pitch, sidestepped two defenders and passed it to Vinit Rai. The midfielder on turn rolled it to Manvir who blasted it home from top of the box.
Manvir had to be substituted after taking a knock and Stephen Constantine brought in Passi. The former AIFF Academy cadet took less than a minute to join the party. Ashique, the architect of the first goal, made an identical run down the flank to deliver it for Passi who headed the ball in.
Pakistan’s consolation came with Hassan slamming home with grounder after Indian defender Sharthak Golui’s headed clearance set him free.
“We played well from the beginning to the end,” said Indian coach Constantine. “Credit to Pakistan that they made a game of it but overall I think we deserved to win. We had more chances and we dominated the game.”