Kathmandu, Nepal: Afghanistan beat hosts Nepal by a solitary goal to enter the summit clash of the SAFF Football Championship, here on Sunday.
In a highly entertaining first semifinal, the home team played their hearts out but Sanjar Ahmadi did what mattered the most - scored the winner in the 10th minute of the match.
Afghanistan will meet the winner of the second semifinal between India and Maldives on Wednesday.
Nepal had their chances, including back-to-back penalties awarded in the 88th minute under controversial circumstances, but Afghanistan goalkeeper Mansur Fagiryar saved Rohit Chand's spot-kick on both occasions.
The penalty was awarded when substitute Bimal Gharti Magar collided with Mansur and fell down which prompted the Saudi Arabia referee ASAM Idham Mohammed to point at the dreaded spot.
Chand's first kick was brilliantly saved by Mansur diving to his left but the assistant referee pointed out that the goalie had moved from his position before the kick was taken.
Immediately another spot-kick was awarded but Chand's feeble shot was saved by a diving Mansur. Once the match was over, it was difficult to watch the crestfallen Nepal players who got a standing ovation from their supporters.
Buoyed by a partisan home crowd of 20000, Nepal boys dominated the proceedings for the better part of the match but failed to find the net. Nepal forwards Anil Gurung and Jumanu Rai did try to make decisive inroads but failed to execute their plans in the attacking third.
Mostly, the Nepal players tried long ranger but Afghan goalkeeper Mansur didn't face much problems as he either fisted or punched away those efforts.
Only once did he face some problems when he was out of his position and Sandeep Rai's free-kick from the centre circle caught him unawares. He had to run back and tip it over horizontal in nick of time.
Afghanistan got the elusive goal in the 10th minute when Mustafa Azad Joy's punch saw Nepali goalkeeper Kiran Limbu fumble in trying to collect the ball. Afghan striker Ahmadi came from the blind side to stab home the winner as home team defenders Sagar Thapa and Rabin Shresta didn't move from their position.
Even when they were a goal down, Nepal team attacked with a lot of vigour but the lack of finishing ability let them down. Credit should be given Afghan stopper Mustafa Hadid who played with a plaster on his right hand keeping the rival attackers at bay.
He was a pillar of confidence even during the stoppage time which stretched to seven minutes as one of the Afghan defenders Farzad Ghulam was hospitalized after being injured in an aerial tussle.
Story first published on: Sunday, 08 September 2013 20:39 IST