SAFF Championship: Sunil Chhetri brace inspires 10-man India to 3-1 win over Maldives and set up final vs Nepal

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Sunil Chhetri once again had to produce the goods for India as they rallied around the skipper to beat Maldives 3-1 in the SAFF Championship semi-final on Wednesday. Chhetri scored a brace as 10-man India overcame a stiff challenge from the defending champions and set up Saturday's final against Nepal.

Chhetri took his goals tally to 79 from 124 appearances in international football to grab joint-sixth position on the all-time list with Zambia's Godfrey Chitalu, who also has the same number of goals from 111 matches.

India had taken the lead through Manvir Singh's strike in the 33rd minute but the hosts hit back and equalised just 12 minutes later after Pritam’s Kotal’s foul in the penalty box gave Maldives a penalty which Ali Ashfaq converted in the 45th minute to bring the game back on level terms at half time.

Chhetri had a serious crack at goal near the hour mark, when a string of passes between Chinglensana, Lalengmawia, and Suresh ended up with the Indian skipper, whose shot went over.

Minutes later, it was Lalengmawia again, who played in a cross for Manvir. The lanky forward chested the ball into the path of Chhetri, who blasted it into the back of the net, to put India back in the lead.

Maldives immediately went looking for the second equaliser of the night, and earned a free-kick at the edge of the Indian penalty box. Ashfaq had struck the free-kick to go over the wall and dip as it neared the goal, but Gurpreet stepped in with an outstretched arm and tipped it over the bar.

Sunil Chhetri gave India the two-goal cushion in the 71st minute, when another aerial ball by Lalengmawia into the box was headed by the India skipper. His header looped over Mohamed Faisal and into the net.

India gaffer Igor Stimac rang in the changes soon enough, with Rahim Ali, Glan Martins, and Anirudh Thapa replacing Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri, and Md Yasir, respectively. The India coach was soon given his marching order by the referee for a second yellow card.

With a minute of injury time left on the clock, Subhasish Bose was also given his marching orders for a second bookable offence, before the referee finally brought the match to an end, as India made it to the SAFF final for the 12th time.

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