Ashfaq Ali, the Maldives captain also known as ‘Dhaggey’ or Iron Man in Maldivian language, scored a brace as his team staged a brilliant comeback to beat Afghanistan 3-1 in a Group A match of the Bangabandhu SAFF Championship at the BNS on Monday.
The physically strong Afghans played a power-based game from the very beginning and unsettled the defending champions. Maldives, however, showed they were not going to give up and at last they were the conquerors.
Ashfaq Ali, the attacking midfielder, was at the heart of all their attacks and he inspired the team with his two late strikes to present Maldives the first victory in the meet after a disappointing 1-1 tie against Nepal in the first match.
Maldives launched the first attack in the 18th minute as Ibrahim Fazeel’s header from a Nasser Mukhtar cross bounced back to the game after hitting the right- hand post.
Afghanistan mounted pressure and reaped the result in the 31st minute when Hashmatullah Barkezai, the agile midfielder, burst through the midfield and unleashed a fierce drive from the edge of the box that slipped from the gloves of Maldives goalkeeper Mohammed Imran and trickled over the goal-line.
Ahmed Thorik pulled Maldives back in the game seven minutes after the resumption. Nasser Mukhtar curved in a corner from the right and Ibrahim Fazeel headed it towards Thorik who tapped it home from close distance.
After getting the equaliser the Maldives skipper rose to the occasion. After a combined attack from the midfield, Ashfaq’s shrewd placing shot gave Afghanistan goalie Hamidullah no chance to react.
Afghanistan looked disheartened after conceding the second goal and Maldives took the chance. They continued the attack and four minutes from time Ashfaq galloped through the midfield and drilled a low shot past the Afghan keeper to spark wild celebration in the Maldives tent.