Shillong, Feb 5 (IANS) Riding on the stellar performance of their goalkeeper Aishath Abdul Razzaq, the Maldives held champions India to a goalless draw on Friday in their 12th South Asian Games women’s football competition match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Stadium here in Meghalaya.
Razzaq made some brilliant saves to ensure that Indian strikers failed to net a single goal. She saved nearly a dozen — some of them being goal-line saves.
India got their first opportunity in the 4th minute as Kamala Devi, after a glitzy passing move with Sasmita Malik on the left flank, teed up on rushing Premi Devi but she could only unleash a lacklustre shot.
Four minutes later, Sasmita Malik released Bembem Devi onto goal with an accurate through ball, but the latter could only hammer the side-netting.
But the Indians were the stronger side with Dangmei Grace’s header in the 12th minute nearly found the goal but the attempt went wide of the target.
India piled on the pressure. Premi Devi failed to convert her chance from inside the box after Sasmita Malik unleashed an accurate cross for her in the 20th.
In the 36th minute, Prameshwori Devi was denied a goal after the Maldivian defence cleared the danger with the sides going into the break goalless.
Upon resumption, Dangmei sent a scorcher but her shot flew merely inches shy of the goal. Maldives goalkeeper Razzaq had an excellent game, producing endless saves throughout the match.
India skipper Oinam Bembem Devi, Sanju, and Kamala Devi hardly allowed their Maldivian opponents any room to breathe. But the Maldivians stole the show against the current champions with their resilient defending.
“We were pretty confident of a win and prepared well for the match but could not capitalise on their chances. The team, however, played well,” Indian coach Sajid Yusuf Dhar said at the post-match conference.
“We will be looking at our mistakes and working on them,” he added.
Congratulating the Maldives for gaining a point, Dar said the Maldives now are not the same team from four years back. They are a much better side which reflected in Friday’s match.
“It was a very good result for us. My players did very well today. I didn’t expect such a result since India is a strong team. I am happy with the way Aminath, Sanfa and Fadhuwa and Aishath Razzaq played,” an elated Maldives coach Naoko Kawamoto said.
The Japanese coach admitted that the cold in Shillong was difficult for many of her players, but said they did their best denying the defending champions India a win.
Asked about her tactical plan for the next match against Nepal, Kawamoto said: “We will look to defend well against them. Even today (Friday), I advised my girls not to attack, otherwise we would be providing India opportunities to score.”
The Maldives will face Nepal on February 7 followed by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.