India's superior quality came to the fore as the Blue Tigers secured a convincing 3-1 victory over Maldives. The win confirms Igor Stimac's side a place in the SAFF Championship 2021 final against Nepal on Saturday (October 16).
The game, as has been the theme in this year's Championship, was slow to take off. It took until the eighth minute for the first half-chance, with Sunil Chhetri's shot blocked by a Maldives defender. India quickly grew into the game from that point, with their passing looking crisp and energetic.
The improvement in their play saw the Blue Tigers open the scoring in the 33rd minute. Brandon Fernandes played Manvir Singh through with a brilliant pass. Despite having to shoot from a narrow angle, the forward beat Mohamed Faisal in the Maldives goal.
However, India's joy was short-lived. That's because a contentious foul by Pritam Kotal in the box gave Maldives the opportunity to level the scores. Up stepped the seasoned Ali Ashfaq. The veteran placed the ball into the bottom-right corner to ensure the teams went into half-time at 1-1.
Stimac's side upped the ante in the second half. Needing a win to qualify for the final, India were on the ascendancy, causing several discomfiting moments for the opposition. The Maldives, though, were content with defending deep and waiting for a counter-attacking opportunity, as they knew a draw would seal them a place in Saturday's final.
But their hopes were thwarted when 17 minutes into the second half. Lalengmawia Ralte scooped an aerial ball into the box which was chested down by Manvir Singh. The ball fell to an unmarked Chhetri, who lashed it in on the half-volley to put India ahead.
Things went from bad to worse for the Maldives, as Chhetri scored again less than ten minutes later. Following a foul on the right wing, Kotal whipped a dangerous free-kick into the box. Chhetri stayed low and guided a looping header into the top right corner. It became 3-1, and the game was well beyond Maldives' reach.
There was late drama, though. Stimac was first sent to the stands after arguing with the fourth official. India's Subhashish Bose was then sent off in injury-time for a second bookable offence.
On that note, here's a look at the ratings of India's players against Maldives.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu - 7/10
Sandhu was kept busy by the Maldives' offence, and was forced to make two saves. One of those was particularly impressive, as the Indian custodian rose to save a free-kick with the score 2-1 in his side's favour. Sandhu also claimed two crosses and was generally good with his ball-distribution.
Mandar Rao Desai - 5/10
Desai looked decent during the first half, but had to be taken off just 36 minutes into the game due to an injury. He registered two shots (zero on target) and a 77.8% passing accuracy.
Subhashish Bose - 4.5/10
Bose was the lone blot in an otherwise impressive Indian performance. The centre-back, who was on a booking, lunged into an unnecessary tackle in second-half stoppage time to get sent off. Bose managed a shot on target, though, and also made two tackles.
Rahul Bheke - 6/10
Bheke was solid in defence, moving the ball well. The Indian defender recorded a tackle and won two fouls on the night, and completed 79.2% of his passes.
Pritam Kotal - 6.5/10
Kotal looked a bit like a loose cannon in the first half, getting himself booked and conceding a penalty. He recovered brilliantly, though, in the second half, laying out an assist for Chhetri's second goal. Kotal managed two key passes and a tackle on the night.
Brandon Fernandes - 7/10
It was yet another impressive performance from Fernandes following his excellent showing against Nepal. The winger laid out two key passes, and assisted Manvir Singh's opener. Fernandes, unfortunately, had to be taken off early in the second half due to injury, and India looked a little less potent without him.
Lalengmawia Ralte - 6.5/10
It was a solid performance from Ralte against Maldives, as he kept India ticking at the centre of the park. The midfielder won a game-high four tackles, and completed 82.7% of his passes.
Suresh Wangjam - 6.5/10
Wangjam was more daring in his approach than he was during the clash against Nepal. The 21-year-old was brilliant in retaining the ball, winning four fouls during the game. Wangjam also managed two shots, but neither were on target.
Mohammad Yasir - 7/10
Yasir was impressive once again for India. The winger is a brilliant prospect, and displayed just why he could have a big future with the national team. Yasir orchestrated much of India's wing-play with his movement, and registered three key passes. He also worked hard defensively, winning four tackles.
Sunil Chhetri - 8/10
India's captain answered the call one more time. Chhetri enjoyed a much more efficient evening, scoring from the two shots on target he registered from six attempts.
The talismanic forward also won two fouls, and was much involved in the game against Maldives. Chhetri now has 79 goals in 123 matches for India, which is simply an astounding record.
Manvir Singh - 8/10
Manvir Singh also had a field night against Maldives. The forward first scored the opener with an excellent near-post finish. He then assisted Chhetri with a well-directed chest-down. It was an improved performance from Singh after his middling outing against Nepal. The forward won a foul, and also provided a key pass apart from scoring a goal.
Ratings of India substitutes against Maldives
Chinglensana Singh - 6/10
Singh did reasonably well defensively after replacing Desai in the 36th minute. He didn't contribute much in attack, though, and was also booked in the second half.
Udanta Singh - 6.5/10
Udanta Singh offered an extra outlet for India's midfielders, and added plenty of energy to his side. He also linked up well with the forwards after replacing the injured Fernandes.
Anirudh Thapa - 6.5/10
Thapa came on for Yasir in the 78th minute. The young midfielder immediately caused problems for the Maldives' defence with his direct running and energy, winning a couple of fouls to help India see out the game.
Glan Martins - 6/10
Martins replaced Chhetri in the 78th minute. He was clearly sent on to help add some steel to midfield, and see the game out, and he did just that. Martins also made one slaloming run to the edge of the box, but couldn't sort his feet out to get the shot away.
Rahim Ali - 5/10
Ali replaced Manvir Singh in the 78th minute. However, he didn't see much of the ball, with India more content on defending their lead and avoiding any late hiccups.