Afghanistan storms into semifinal

Defending champion Afghanistan played two periods in contrasting styles yet came out as easy winner against Maldives in a Group ‘B’ match of SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament at the Greenfield stadium here on Monday.

Afghanistan's Omid Popaizay and Maldives Ahmed Shafiu in action at the SAFF Cup in Thiruvananthapuram.   -  S. Gopakumar

Defending champion Afghanistan played two periods in contrasting styles yet came out as easy winner against Maldives in a Group ‘B’ match of SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament at the Greenfield stadium here on Monday.

The 4-1 win saw Afghanistan top the group with three wins and earned the right to play Sri Lanka in the semifinals. Maldives will play host India in the other semifinal on Thursday.

After having ensured qualification from the group, Afghan coach chose to experiment and made seven changes in the squad which played against Bhutan.

The changes seemed to have backfired when Maldvies had more of the ball and created chances early in the first half. Fasir Ali was a constant menace to the Afghan defence and he induced a good save from Afghan goalkeeper in the 14th minute. A fast counter attack by Maldives saw Nashid Ahmed relay the ball to Fasir Ali whose shot was intercepted for a corner. The corner was headed out by Asadullah as Afghan goal survived some anxious moments.

The opening Afghan goal came against the run of play when Zubayr Amri won a mid air duel and headed the ball into the path of captain Faysal Shayesteh who scored with a clinical finish. Maldives refused to be cowed down and attacked with verve. Fasir stole the ball from Anosh Dastgri to enter the penalty box and then he rounded the goalkeeper to score the equaliser in the 31st minute. However, a superbly taken free-kick from 25 yards by Omid Popalzay restored the lead for Afghans in the 34th minute.

Afghanistan struck rhythm early in the second half and harried the Maldives defence with well coordinated moves. Ahamad Arash Hatifie underlined his side’s supremacy in the 51st minute when he volleyed home from top of the box as the half-cleared ball off a corner kick came to him. Three minutes later Afghanistan increased the lead as Omid Popalzay gave finishing touches to a well orchestred move. Zubyr Amri hit the post in the 67th minute and he was denied by a good save from Imran in the 82nd minute.