It was bit of a last roll of the dice when Maldives coach Herbert Lloyd brought in striker Hassan Naiz as substitute in the 89th minute. Two minutes earlier Bangladesh had scored the equaliser through Hemonta Biswas.
Naiz showed extreme composure under pressure when he superbly back-heeled a cross from Nashid Ahmed in the 90th minute to restore Maldives’s lead, and five minutes later Nashid found the net with a classy finish in stoppage time to seal the issue.
Maldives thus snuffed out the spirited challenge from Bangladesh to enter the semifinals from Group-B of the SAFF Suzuki Cup football tournament at the Greenfield stadium here on Saturday.
Defending champion and favourite Afghanistan packed far too many guns for Bhutan, and wrapped up a 3-0 win to advance to the semifinals in style.
A brace by Khaibar Amani (14th, 51st) set up a fluent win. Maish Saighani (42nd) scored the other goal for Afghanistan.
Monday’s match between Maldives and Afghanistan will decide the group winner. Both Bhutan and Bangladesh are out effectively out of the tournament, and will play for pride when they meet on Monday.
A much-improved performance from Bangladesh was still not good enough to stop Maldives from recording its second straight win which clinched the latter a spot in the last four.
The match witnessed a frenzied finish in which three goals came in the last 10 minutes.
Bangladesh saw a glimmer of hope to stay alive in the tournament when Biswas’s shot deflected off a Maldives defender and went into the net for the equaliser.
But Maldives hit back with two goals that ended Bangladesh’s dream.
In the first half, Bangladesh surrendered the initiative early but wrested back the control in the midfield by slowing down the tempo of contest.
Bangladesh’s ploy of holding on to the ball upset the rhythm of its rival, and the side created a few chances but could not convert any of them.
Shakawath Rony missed an easy chance in the 29th minute when he beat the off-side trap to meet a cross from left flank, only to be denied by an alert Mohammed Imran in the Maldives goal.
Maldives went ahead when the referee penalised Bangladesh defender Waly Faisal for handball. Ashfaq Ali coolly converted the penalty for his second goal of the tournament.
Just when it appeared like the match would end in a solitary goal win for Maldives came the phase that saw the three-goal flurry.
It was another show of dominance by Afghanistan, and the champion side took the lead in the 14th minute when Khaibar Amani tapped the ball past Nepal goalkeeper Hari Gurung’s legs after receiving the cross from Hassan Amin.
The defensive Bhutan side managed to prevent Afghanistan from increasing the lead until Maish Saighani found the net with a header.
The defender was just too powerful for his marker as he connected the free-kick from Narollah Amin in the 42nd minute.
Khyer Amani scored the third goal in the 51st with a header off a corner taken by Narollah Amin.
The results: Maldives 3 (Ashfaq Ali 42, Hassan Naiz 90, Nashid Ahmed 95) bt Bangladesh 1 (Hemonta Biswas 87).
Afghanistan 3 (Khaibar Amani 14, 51, Masih Saighani 42) bt Nepal 0.
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