Hyderabad:India rode on a late goal by Sunil Chhetri to beat Myanmar 1-0 under unplayable ground conditions and set up a title clash against defending champions Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup football tournament here on Thursday.
Chhetri scored India's all-important goal in the 82nd minute of the semifinal match with a fine header after being set up by captain Baichung Bhutia.
In the other semifinal, which was marred by a brief scuffle between the players after the match was over, Tajikistan stunned title favourites DPR Korea by a solitary goal scored by Muhidinov Dzhomikhon in the 39th minute.
Playing on a ground not suitable for an international match, the home team game against Myanmar depended more on factors not connected with football.
In the first half, which failed to produce any goal, the pitch was better despite the top surface crumbling due to lots of rain in the past few days. But after heavy downpour during the interval, the Gachibowli Stadium ground turned into a muddy field with pools of water in the middle and ball stopping once it fell on the water.
Myanmar had more of the attacks initially but the home team pressed hard towards the close of first session and should have taken the lead but for striker Sunil Chhetri.
India had the first look at the rival goal in the second minute itself with captain Baichung Bhutia shooting straight to Myanmar custodian Aung Aung Oo.
Seven minutes later, Climax Lawrence was blocked from taking a shot by a Myanmarese defender after being fed by Pradeep.
The Myanmarese mainly initiated their attacks from the right flank with Kyaw Moe Aung doing a lot of overlapping runs down the right flank and sending crosses for striker Yan Paing and Soe Min Yat. Kyaw Moe Aung himself had a powerful shot at the Indian goal but went straight to goalkeeper.
India had a close shave in the 15th minute with Mynamar striker Soe Min cutting through the Indian box after getting the better of Anwar Ali and Samir Naik but his shot was palmed away by goalkeeper Subrata Paul.
Two minutes later, Pradeep headed wide from a Renedy Singh floater from the left edge of box.
In the 23rd minute, it was the turn of Myanmar to have a chance but Yan Paing's shot from a close range from a cross from the right, was blocked by Anwar Ali.
Eked on by a 2500-odd crowd, India almost took the lead in the last five minutes of the first half. In the 40th minute, a Renedy free kick went past Myanmar goalkeeper after a tussle with Baichung but Khin Muang Lwin cleared it from the goal-line for a corner.
Two minutes later, Chhetri wasted the easiest of the chances. After being fed by Pradeep and the ball stopping due to heavy ground conditions on front of him, the Indian striker had only the goalkeeper to beat but his shot missed the target by inches.
One minute before the breather, Climax headed wide off a pass from Steven Dias.
However after the breather, which saw a heavy downpour, India showed better adaptability and got a couple of shots at the opposition goal in the first few minutes.
First in the 56th minute, Climax shot over from just outside the box and two minutes later Baichung was on the clear in front of the goal after being fed by Pradeep but the India captain's right footer hit the side net of the near post.
Six minutes later, a Baichung pass to Pradeep was shot straight to Myanmar goalkeeper by the latter. In the 78th minute, Myanmar were denied a goal by the crossbar with substitute Si Thu Win's header from a cross from the right beat India goalkeeper Subrata Paul all ends up only to find the woodwork.
Eight minutes from time, Chhetri scored the all-important goal for India from a Baichung initiative. The India captain got the ball just outside the rival box. He got the better of his marker and then sent a floater for Chhetri who hold the ball with a first header and then nodded home with a second header to the wild celebration of Indian supporters.
The South East Asians made their last-ditched efforts to level the score but the Indians held forth to book a ticket for a summit clash on Sunday.
The second semifinal between defending champions Tajikistan and DPR Korea was also a tussle of who comes out unscathed under unplayable ground conditions.
Played under intermittent rain, DPR Korea were the dominant side in the first session but it were the Tajiks who scored against the run of play in the match delayed by half an hour due to heavy ground conditions.
The match also saw two North Koreans -- captain Pak Nam Chol and Choe Myong Ho -- being shown direct red cards for arguing with the referee in the 88th and 92nd minutes.
The North Koreans had at least three shots at the Tajik goal in the first session but none of them found the target.
First, it was Kim Yong Il who headed over the bar from a close range connecting a free kick in the eighth minute. Next, striker Pak Chol Min was sent clear inside the box but the ball was stopped by water in the 19th minute.
Ninth minutes later, it was again Kim Kyong Il who headed over the crossbar and in the 32nd minute it was the turn of Kim Kuk Jin to miss a chance from a header following a corner kick.
It was, however, the Tajiks who took the lead in the 38th minute with striker Muhidinov Dzhomikhon scoring from a free header connecting a free kick from the right and the Korean goalkeeper Ju Kwang Min made a vain effort diving to his right.
After the breather, the Koreans could have equalised but for the slushy ground stopping the ball from going into the goal. So Tae Song's header connecting a free kick beat the Tajikistan goalkeeper Tuychiev Alisher but the ball stopped in the muddy penalty area to give a defender enough time to clear from near the goal-line.
The North Koreans, who had topped Group B after winning all of their matches, went all out for an equaliser but in vain. And, after the match was over, the two opposition players had a minor scuffle at the centre of the pitch but the officials of both the sides brought the incident under control.