Jeje brace helps India seal SAFF Cup final berth

India finished 2015 on a cheerful note as they beat the Maldives 3-2 to enter the final of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Trivandrum International Stadium on Thursday. Jeje Lalpekhlua hit the back of the net twice, while Sunil Chhetri scored once to help India register a convincing win. Nashid Ahmed and Amdhan Ali were the goal-scorers for the Red Snappers.

Both teams looked very confident up front, trying to put opposition defenders in a fix with persistent attacks. The seventh minute of the game saw the Maldives almost beat India to the scoresheet, with Asadhulla Abdulla wreaking havoc on the Indian defenders. India didn’t take long in their reply and Atlético de Kolkata defender Arnab Mondal almost put the Blue Tigers ahead in the 12th minute but his effort didn’t count as he had already been declared off-side.

The Indians, however, were the first to taste success in the match. Holicharan Narzary, who plays for NorthEast United FC in the Hero Indian Super League, lofted a pitch-perfect ball towards Chhetri (Mumbai City FC) in the box and the skipper was more than happy to head it home. The 24th-minute effort was Chhetri’s 12th SAFF Cup goal and with it he surpassed former India player IM Vijayan’s tally.

On 33 minutes, Indian fans had another goal to rejoice. Jeje, who scored six goals in Chennaiyin FC’s ISL triumph earlier in the month, managed to get past the Maldives defenders with no difficulty and netted a goal to take India to a 2-0 lead. However, they failed to finish the first half on a high note as Nashid pulled one back for the Red Snappers in injury time, getting their hopes up quite a bit.

However, the Indian attacking squad had different plans for them in the second half. In the 65th minute, off a Chhetri assist, Jeje deftly registered his second goal of the game, strengthening the Tigers’ lead over the Snappers. The Maldives, however, weren’t one to go down without a fight. The Snappers reduced their deficit in the 75th minute through an Amdhan strike that put immense pressure on the Indian team.

The final whistle saw the Indian team, as well as the fans, breathe a sigh of relief as they managed to keep the Maldives at bay. India will now play the winners of Thursdays’ second semi-final between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The final will be played on January 3.

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