Trivandrum: In a match to decide hosts India's semi-final opponents, defending champions Afghanistan stamped their authority over Maldives to beat the island nation 4-1 in the final group B clash of SAFF Championships on Monday night.
India will now face group B runner-up Maldives in the first semi-final on 31 December, while group toppers Afghanistan set up a clash with Sri Lanka in the second semi-final later on the same day.
In the other Group B match of the day, Bangladesh scored twice in first 45 minutes and then grabbed a third one in the second-half, thereby claiming a consolation win over Bhutan in an inconsequential group B clash.
With a decent number of supporters behind them, Maldives started the match, which one expected both teams to start cautiously, in supreme confidence and tested Afghanistan multiple times in the first fifteen minutes of the game.
But it was Afghnistan, caught flat-footed early on, that awoke to find the first goal when skipper Faysal Shayesteh coolly placed a shot past the Maldivian goalkeeper after latching on to a headed ball from Amiri, giving the defending champions some breathing space after a shaky start.
Maldives, however, were unfazed and continued their momentum going forward and soon replied in kind when Fasir Ali made a brilliant run through the middle in the 32nd minute, cut past a defender near the edge of the Afghan box, rounded the onrushing goalkeeper and slotted the ball into an empty goal.
In a frenzy of end-to-end action, the match refused to settle down and Afghanistan again put themselves in lead a couple minutes later through 19-year-old Omid Popalzay's curling free-kick from the edge of the Maldivian penalty area.
The match had been very close till the half-time, but it was as if Afghanistan let the floodgates open after the break as they scored twice in quick succession in the second half, burying Maldivies' hopes of topping the group.
Ahmad Arash Hatifie belted in a half-volley after a clearance off a 51st minute corner fell on his feet at the edge of the box. Three minutes later, Popalzay doubled his account to put Afghanistan 4-1 ahead.
Afghanistan have now scored 11 and conceded just one in the three group stage games, a strong statement of intent from the defending champions
Earlier in the day, Bangladeshi forward Shakawat Rony found the net twice in a game which saw the tournament's first red card as Bhutan's Chimi Dorji was sent off in the 22nd minute for a foul in the penalty box.
Updated Date: Dec 29, 2015 08:29 AM