Indian custodian Arindam Bhattacharya produced a magnificent performance helping India to win the title of Bangabandhu SAFF Championship with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory over Maldives after a goalless 120 minutes at the Bangabandhu National Stadium Sunday.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina distributed the prizes as the chief guest, SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin, State Minister for Youth and Sports Ahad Ali Sarker, Beximco Group Managing Director Salman Rahman were also present on the occasion.
Arindam stood alone against the Maldives during the stipulated 90 and extra 30 minutes and blocked Ahmed Thoriq and Nasser Mukhtar’s spot kick. Maldives skipper Ashfaq Ali shot wide. For India Jibon Singh, Denzil Franco and Subodh Kumar fired the ball into the back of the net while Nirmal Chetri missed.
Maldives lost the final in 2003 against Bangladesh in the tie-breaker and continued the trend. India now have four SAFF titles (1997, 99, 05 and 08) of the six editions.
Both the teams passed a cautious first half putting more attention towards keeping the forte unharmed. Maldives visibly feeling the absence of their wily attacker Ibrahm Fazeel failed to stamp their authority against the rock solid Indian defence formed by Robert Lalthlamuna, Rowilson Rodriguez, Dhramraj Ravanan and Jewel Raja Sheikh hardly allowed any free space for the Maldives attackers. And if the Maldives attackers sneaked through the back four the stone wall like custodian Arindam Bhattacharya was there to foil the opponent onslaught.
Ahmed Thoriq came close to a strike in the 16th minute with tricky a placing between a forest of legs off an Ashfaq through pass but the ball rolled wide off the side post.
Ashfaq was in the center of the action in the 21st minute when Thoriq fed him with a chip from the midfield but the tall Arindam rushed forward to punch the ball to safety.
The second half provided the excitement of the title decider with both the teams showing to come out of the shell of defensive approach. India sent a chill through the Maldives spine in the 56th minute when Balwant Singh’s header from the middle of the box off a Denzil Franco cross whiskered past the side post.
Maldives showing tremendous level of stamina decided to go all-out in the finishing stage of the stipulated time with Nassr Mukhtar creating havoc in the left flank with his defence splitting runs. But the aerial route proved futile as the tall Arindam’s sense and anticipation continued to deny the Maldivian attackers.
Arindam used his height to palm away a Umair Mohammed cross from the right hand flag denying waiting Ashafq in the six yard box in the 72nd minute, dived full stretch to his right putting away an Arif Mohammed cracker n the 80th minute and five minutes off the final whistle frustrated Nasser Mukhtar with timely interception who dashed through the right hand touchline.
The first half of the extra time continued to provide the electricity but as usual Maldives fell short to cross the hurdle named Arindam. Maldives with all their attacking flair pushed forward to break the deadlock and dismantled their opponents with a series of attacks in the second half of the extra time. In the 107th minute Ali Assad’s fierce left footed volley of a Nasser Mukhtar cross found the typical destination of Arindam’s gloves.
Indian skipper Sushil Kumar was looking at the heavens in the 109th minute as his tap from hand shaking distance was collected by Maldives custodian Imran in his second attempt. Imran fumbled to hold a Jibon Singh cross from the right flank.
Ashfaq in his last wizardry poured in his last drop of energy to break through the Indian defence but much of his and his teams dismay saw his drive fly past the sidepost with Arindam stranded in the far post.
Maldives never regained the confidence and conceded the defeat in the shootout.