A brace from Jeje Lalpekhlua and another goal from Sunil Chhetri took India to the final of the SAFF Cup 2015 on New Year's Eve. The home side registered a 3-2 win against Maldives on Thursday afternoon, to keep their win record intact in the tournament.
Stephen Constantine opted to start with a 3-4-3 formation and deployed Jeje Lalpekhlua, Holicharan Narzary, and hotshot Sunil Chhetri as the front three. The attacking intent of the hosts grew more with every passing minute, and Maldives were feeling the pressure.
Mohamed Imran had a torrid time keeping the goal for Maldives, but the goalkeeper nevertheless did make a name for himself after making some real good saves during the game.
Fasirr Ali took the first shot on goal in the match for the away side from a free-kick in the 4th minute, but Indian custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was up for it. Since then, it was all India. Arnab Mondal found the back of the net in the 11th minute from a well-worked corner, but that was called offside by the linesman.
Not backing down even a bit, the attacking trio for India, with the continuous support of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Bikash Jairu, made life really uncomfortable for the visitors. The beautiful work by the Indian attack saw the game's first opener in the 25th minute. Who else but Chhetri?
The Bengaluru FC star received a precise cross from Narzary and headed the ball at the back of the net.
21-year-old Narzary notched up the assist for India's second goal as well as his beautiful chipped ball inside the penalty box found an indomitable Jeje, who flicked it past the goalkeeper into the back of the net. By the 35th minute, Constantine's men were 2-0 up.
It was all going well and good for the hosts, but a really decent build-up by Maldives in the attacking third, saw the away team pull one goal back just before the half-time. Ahmed Nashid took a straight shot at goal, and it went inside the net, making Gurpreet stand as a mere spectator.
After changing ends, Constantine's men continued playing with the same momentum they started the game with. India's front three kept coming on several occasions, and Chennaiyin FC man Jeje got his second of the afternoon. The 24-year-old forward overpowered the Maldives defence to score past Imran, after receiving a wonderful pass from Chhetri in the 66th minute.
It was drama again within a span of ten minutes as the away team got their second of the day through Amdaan Ali. The defender leaped the highest to head home a corner in the 75th minute.
Boy wonder Lallianzuala came on late in the second half, replacing Chhetri, and the 18-year-old made an instant mark by taking a shot on goal, only to see the ball parried away by Imran.
Maldives stepped their ante in the closing stages, but couldn't get that all-important goal.