India played their penultimate group stage game of the 2021 SAFF Championship against hosts Maldives in Male today. The match was a must-win game for India. A draw would mean India would be eliminated from the tournament's group stages for the first time in the championship's history.
The match started with India taking control of the game and making inroads into the Maldives box. After that, India began creating pressure and created a few chances in the initial moments of the game.
India took the lead in the 33rd minute when Brandon Fernandes' through-ball found Manvir Singh. He ran into the box and slotted the ball into the roof of the net.
Maldives got a penalty in the 45th minute when Pritam Kotal bought down Hamza Mohamed inside the penalty box. Ali Ashfaq made no mistake from the penalty spot to equalize for the Maldives.
The scoreboard at halftime read 1-1.
The second half started with both teams playing end-to-end football and trying to get the upper hand.
Sunil Chhetri gave India the lead in the 62nd minute when he slotted the ball home from a Manvir Singh chested pass. Chhetri scored his second goal of the match in the 70th minute through a header from a Pritam Kotal freekick. The match ended with India winning the game 3-1 and progressing to the SAFF Championship 2021 finals. India will face Nepal in the finals.
On that note, let us take a look at four things we learned from today's game.
#4 Manvir Singh finally finds his form
Manvir Singh had been poor in this edition of the SAFF Championship until today. However, Manvir did get his form back at a time when the team needed it the most.
Today Manvir managed to score a goal in the first half and give India the crucial lead. In the second half, he managed to assist Sunil Chhetri to provide India with the lead after Maldives had equalized.
Manvir looked dangerous going forward today, unlike in previous games.
Fans and Igor Stimac will hope that Manvir continues to perform like this in the finals and the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers.
#3 Indian defense a cause of concern for Igor Stimac
Even though India won the game by a handsome margin, the defense will remain a cause of concern for Igor Stimac. With Subasish Bose ruled out of the finals due to a red card, Igor will need to rearrange his backline.
The way Pritam Kotal gave away the penalty in the first half was another thing to look out for. Giving away such fouls at crucial times could ruin the whole game for the side.
Apart from the penalty, the Indian defenders committed many fouls near the box, which were in a dangerous position. Maldives could have punished India if they had converted the set pieces.
#2 Sunil Chhetri does it again
The captain fantastic of the Indian National team has been the team's flag bearer for a long time. It has been Sunil Chhetri who has taken the team to shore from many troubled times. Today also, Chhetri scored a brace to secure victory for India in a must-win game.
Chhetri scored his first goal in the 62nd minute when he slotted the ball home with a powerful strike from inside the box. He scored his second of the night from a Pritam Kotal free-kick when his looping header beat the keeper in the 70th minute.
#1 India will need to perform better in the finals
India looked impressive today because Maldives were the only side in this competition who attacked a bit throughout the game and didn't sit back. India will face Nepal in the finals, who will again sit back and look to attack on the counter.
If India plays with the same tactics, it could prove challenging to beat Nepal, who by now have seen everything the Indian players have to offer going forward. However, a different approach could swing the tide in India's favor a secure a comfortable victory.