Sunil Chhetri scored twice to lead India to a 3-1 triumph against the Maldives in their final league encounter, putting them in the final of the SAFF Championship in Male on Wednesday.
In the must-win encounter for India, Chhetri scored in the 62nd and 71st minutes after Manvir Singh had taken India the lead in the 33rd minute. The Maldives equalized in the 45th minute thanks to a penalty kick by Ali Ashfaq.
Chhetri, 37, is just one goal behind Argentina’s Lionel Messi (80), who is the second-highest international goal scorer among active players behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (115).
India, the seven-time winner, will face Nepal in the final on October 16 after finishing first in the five-team table with eight points. In the previous match of the day, Nepal drew 1-1 with Bangladesh to finish second in the round-robin league with seven points.
In a league match, India defeated Nepal 1-0. With the victory over the Maldives, India avoided being eliminated from contention for the regional tournament final, which would have been the country’s worst finish in recent memory.
This will be India’s 12th final participation. India dominated the game throughout, and Chhetri came close to scoring in the 27th minute when his header from a Brandon Fernandes corner hit the crossbar.
In the 28th minute, Ashfaq had a dangerous effort at the Indian goal, but it was stopped by a defender. Manvir put it past the Maldives goalkeeper at the near post five minutes later to give India the lead.
Ashfaq scored a penalty just seconds before halftime to get the Maldives back into the game. In the 51st minute, India head coach Igor Stimac replaced Brandon Fernandes with nimble winger Udanta Singh.
In the 62nd minute, India gained the lead for the first time. Manvir chested down an Apuia cross for Chhetri to fire into the Maldives net’s back. In the 71st minute, the Indian captain scored his second goal of the day with a looping header into the opponent’s net.