A first half Sanjdar Ahmadi strike was enough for the Afghans as they entered their second consecutive SAFF Championship final...
By Anselm Noronha with Ayush Srivastava at the stadium
Afghanistan edged past Nepal 1-0 in the first semi-final of the SAFF Championship 2013 played at the Dashrath Rangshala Stadium, on Sunday evening.
A first half strike by Sanjdar Ahmadi helped Yousef Kargar's side book a berth in Wednesday's final while Nepal were guilty of missing several chances that came their way, most notably to Rohit Chand who saw his spot-kick being saved by the Afghanistan custodian.
Jumanu Rai was named in the starting eleven by coach Jack Stefanowski with Jagjit Shreshtha was ruled out due to injury. Kargar too made one change to his side with Mohammad Marouf making way for Amiruddin Mohammad.
Nepal started the better of the two sides with Bharat Khawas testing the opposition goalkeeper Mansur Fariqyar in the very first minute which was tipped wide for a corner.
A few minutes later, Sandip Rai saw the goalkeeper off his line and chipped from the half-line hoping to catch him off guard. However Mansur Faqiryar scrambled his way back to avert the danger.
It was Afghanistan who took the lead when goalkeeper Kiran Kumar let a regulation cross out of his grip which allowed Sanjdar Ahmadi to tap in from close range in the 11th minute.
The Gorkhalis however continued to add pressure on the visitors who had managed to silence the crowds momentarily. In the 18th minute, Sagar Thapa took advantage of uncleared delivery, but the home team's skipper lacked the punch in his shot.
Nepal did try to make a few inroads into the Afghan backline but failed to do so. They resorted to desperate long balls directed towards Anil Gurung which were easily cleared by the opposition. Meanwhile, off the break, the Afghanistan attackers gave their defenders a lot of breathing space as they worked well in tight spaces.
Six minutes into the second half as a penalty appeal was turned down by Saudi Arabian referee Saleh Al Hathlool after Mustafa Azadzoy went down in the box.
Two minutes later, Bhola Nath Silwal's shot was kept out for a corner by Faqiryar, from which Sagar Thapa rose highest but failed to direct his header on goal as Nepal continued their hunt for the elusive equaliser.
At the hour mark, Stefanowski introduced trump card Bimal Magar, and the change almost instantaneously paid off as the substitute sent in a viscous left-footer which didn't miss the target by much.
While Nepal continued to miss their chances, Afghanistan’s Farzad Ataee had to be taken off in an ambulance after Gurung’s knee dug into the defender’s back.
Afghanistan could have doubled their lead after Azadzoy, who got to the line, sent in a cross for Balal Arezou who got ahead of the goalkeeper to see his diving header miss the target.
In the 84th minute, Gurung headed wide off a Sandip Rai free-kick after it had beaten Amiri.
Kargar's side were incensed as the referee awarded a strange penalty. The goalkeeper grabbed the ball and the opposition player, who had almost no chance of scoring, ran into him and fell down theatrically. Rohit Chand’s effort was saved by Faqiryar, but it had to be retaken. However, Chand took a feeble penalty kick once again and the hero of the day saved the spot-kick with ease.
In the stoppage time, Magar headed the ball goalwards which was cleared off the line by the defenders. The ball fell for Khawas who also headed it wide.
The Afghan bench registered a complain to the fourth official as a mobile phone was flung towards them, which was barely two minutes before they held firm until the end and confirmed their spot in the final at the expense of Nepal who would rue their missed opportunities.
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