Kathmandu, Sep 9 (IANS) A late strike by Arnab Mondal helped an unimpressive India get past Maldives in the semi-final of the SAFF Cup football tournament here Monday. Holders India will next face Aghanistan in Wednesday's final.
Mondal scored the winner in the 85th minute.
Sans skipper Sunil Chettri, who is out due to double booking, India started on a bright note with Robin Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua gelling well upfront.
In the 7th minute Arata Izumi almost met Jeje's cross from the left but the rival goalkeeper Imran Mohamed leapt higher than all.
Five minutes later, Mehtab Hossain curled in his free-kick but it agonisingly hit Robin's knee before going out. And even as the trio of Arata, Jeje and Robin were stitching in the rival area the jungle of legs just outside the rival goal area frustrated them.
Jeje had a crack at the goal in the 30th minute when Robin chested down a Arnab Mondal long ball but it went over.
Maldives revolved around Ali Ashfaq. The highest goal scorer of the tournament looked dangerous at times but the Indian defence were equal to the task.
But despite the Indian pressure, Maldives refused to crack. India's last chance in the first half went abegging in the 42nd minute - a Hossain shot off a counter rolling down the goal line.
Immediately after resumption Francis Fernandes went past Akram Gani on the right, entered the box but slipped at the last moment, Imran gathering with ease.
The very next moment, another of Francis' centre, all destined to be headed in by Robin was eventually headed out by Mohamed Sifan; and then, the next minute, Maldives managed to keep away Hossain's corner. It was just the start which India need post resumption.
Francis by then had spun a web on the right. In the 60th minute he set up Robin who dodged past Akram but mistimed his shot which flew over.
Ashfaq was booked in the 72nd minute for diving inside the box. Ashfaq anticipated a Nirmal Chettri backpass and tried to go past Subrata Paul.
In the 80th minute, Gouramangi's flick off a Hossain corner was gathered by Imran and then Jeje's volley hit the side-net and then even as he waved past the jungle of legs to slot it home in the 85th minute, it was disallowed.
The moment arrived next minute - Mondal slotting it home. Chhetri went wild as did the dugout.