[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Indian football team went into the SAFF Cup final as overwhelming favourites to retain the title, despite fielding an U-23 side that didn’t always function as a cohesive unit. Yet it was Maldives who were celebrating at the end of the 90-minute game on Saturday as they pulled off an upset in the final to clinch only their second-ever SAFF Cup with a 2-1 victory over India.
It was Ibrahim Mahudhee who started off things for Maldives with a goal in the 19th minute, this was followed by Ali Fasir who converted it into a 2 goal lead at the 66th minute. India, on the other hand, could only manage a consolation goal at the 92nd minute by Sumeet Passi.
The final saw Maldives use a simple – if perpetually unwatchable – approach. Realising that the Indian wingers would look to pepper the box with crosses due to starting with a two-striker formation, Maldives chose to sit deep inside their own box. The tactic worked wonders as the Indian players dominated possession for large parts of the game yet failed to create many clear-cut chances. It didn’t help when they did get into good positions, they couldn’t score. Manvir Singh, who ended the tournament as the top goal-scorer, missed two good chances inside the box. Both missed opportunities could have easily turned the tie on its head.
Maldives were also deadly on the counter-attack, breaking with speed and precision when they could. Both their goals came from counter-attacking moves and while they had fewer clear cut attacking moves than India, they were far more clinical.