Maldives edge past Nepal

Islanders score narrow 2-1 win

It is the fast developing rivalry in Asian football. True to form, Nepal and Maldives were engaged in an entertaining tussle before the island nation conjured up a convincing 2-1 victory in the Nehru Cup football tournament at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Thursday.

The two teams were locked in a 1-1 draw in the SAFF Cup last December at the same venue, but Maldives struck back in the AFC Cup hosted by Nepal this year with a solitary goal. It was, therefore, no less a revenge match for the Nepalese, who were passionately supported by a handsome gathering.

However, they were left to lick their wounds with Abdulla Asadhulla scoring through a rebound when the match was only six minutes old.

The island nation doubled its lead in the 78th minute through Easa Ismail snuff, but substitute Jumanu Rai (90+4) gave the Nepal fans something to cheer, by scoring seconds before the curtains.

The Maldives played a fast-paced, aggressive brand of football, engaging the Nepalese defenders with their constant forays.

Ali Ashfaq was the difference between the two sides and the player, who is touted to be best in Asia, lived upto the top billing. Nepal was pushed to being defensive with Ashfaq and Arif Mohammad scything a tardy midfield at will.

The Nepalese had the heart to fight but were found wanting in strategy. In the sixth minute, a foul from Bikarsh Maharjan at the edge of the box awarded Maldives a free kick. Ashfaq took the kick and Abdulla scored through a rebound.

A minute later, Riteesh Thapa fouled another Maldives’ player just outside the box to give Maldives another free-kick. However, Umair Mohamed’s kick sailed over the bar.  Maldives continued create several openings and dominated the Nepalese throughout the first half.

Nepal came out all guns blazing in the second half and even created a few chances but could not convert. They had their best chance through Bijay Gurung, who came sprinting on a counter attack and drove well into the box but his left-footer went wayward.

The match was trudging towards a predictable end when Ahmed Rasheed in a counter-attack came dashing from right and passed to Easa Ismail, who tapped it in.

In the extra-time, Rai who was substituted in the remaining 15 minutes of the match, opened Nepal’s after being fed by Santosh Sahukhala. 

Maldvies’ coach Istvan Urbanyi said he was happy the way his team controlled the entire match.

“I am very happy the way we played. We controlled the match. Ali (Ashfaq) is our star player, had he been fully fit, he would have scored more goals,” he said. “We meet India next. They are well organised and difficult to play against. They deserved our respect.”
On Friday, Syria lock horns with Cameroon.

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