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Thiruvananthapuram: The Maldives maintained their proud record of reaching the semi-finals of every SAFF Championship they have played in since debuting in 1997 after a dramatic 3-1 victory over Bangladesh guaranteed  the Indian Ocean islanders of at least a second-place finish in Group B of the 2015/16 edition of the South Asian tournament.

Late goals from substitutes Nashid Ahmed and Hassan Naiz sealed the Maldives’ second successive 3-1 win in Kerala after Bangladesh had looked to have secured a share of the spoils with Hemonta Biswas cancelling out out Ali Ashfaq’s first-half penalty with three minutes left on the clock.

Star striker and Maldives skipper Ashfaq made it two goals in two games when he followed up the goal he scored during an inspirational display in the 3-1 opening win over Bhutan when he broke the deadlock from the the penalty spot with three minutes of Sunday’s clash at the Trivandrum International Stadium remaining.

Bangladesh had their moments in first half with Mohammed Zaid Hossain heading against the Maldives crossbar in the 26th minute before Shakhawat Hossain Rony came close to opening the scoring three minutes later but the 2003 champions were left to rue their missed opportunities when Ashfaq successfully converted from the spot after defender Waly Faisal handled the ball inside the area.

With Bangladesh’s hopes of bouncing back from their heavy defeat to defending champions Afghanistan rapidly diminishing, the Bengal Tigers were given a lifeline when Topu Barman’s shot deflected off of Biswas to level the score in the 87th-minute.

But parity was short-lived and the Maldives regained their lead three minutes later through an audacious flick from substitute Hassan Naiz, virtually his first kick of the ball (pictured) before fellow substitute Nashid Ahmed’s fine finish capped an incisive breakaway move five minutes into additional time after immediately after Bangladesh had failed to make the most of a late free-kick.

The curtain comes down on the group phase of the competition on Monday when the Maldives face defending champions Afghanistan to determine the top two teams in Group B while Bangladesh will be looking to bow out on a positive note when they round off their campaign against Bhutan in the earlier fixture. 

Photo: Lagardère Sports

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