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Vijayan, Bhaichung fashion India’s passage to final
- Hosts overpower 10-man Zimbabwe 5-3, to meet Uzbekistan in title-round

Hyderabad: Veteran striker I.M. Vijayan and captain Bhaichung Bhutia scored a brace each as India survived some anxious moments before prevailing over a fighting Zimbabwe 5-3 to enter the football final of the inaugural Afro-Asian Games at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium here on Wednesday.

In the final, India will meet Uzbekistan, who defeated Rwanda by a golden goal through Boyev Konstantin after the scores were level at 1-1 in the other semi-final at Goshamahal Stadium.

In the first semi-final, Vijayan (25th, 33rd), Bhaichung (41st, 83rd) and Rennedy Singh (58th) scored for the winners while Albert Mbano (4th), Edmore Mashiri (81st) and Simon Chipunza (87th) scored for the African nation.

After taking a 3-1 lead at half-time, India faced a late fightback by the Zimbabweans who despite being reduced to 10 for most part of the second half managed to put the hosts under tremendous pressure.

Zimbabwe’s Mantora Asani was shown the red-card by the Malaysian referee Subkhiddin after the player knocked down Bhutia while attempting to wrest the ball. Both Asani and Bhaichung had to be carried out of the field.

Zimbabwe got off to a rousing start, taking the lead in as early as fourth minute. But Bhaichung-led team regained composure and confidence from the initial setback and soon started dominating the proceedings.

“We conceded an early goal. It was not easy (to come back). We knew we had to keep fighting. I am happy about the win,” Bhaichung said after the match.

In the 25th minute, Jatin Bist from the right fed Vijayan at the centre and the veteran, who already had two goals to his credit before the semi-final, did not waste the opportunity and sent in a right footer from the top of the box.

The JCT star, who has announced his retirement at the end of the continental meet, was again in the thick of the action in the 33rd minute. He was fouled on the right and Tomba Singh took the free-kick. However, a lurking Vijayan came up with a brilliant flick-on, beating a rival defender in the air, to take his tally to four.

Seven minutes later the hosts found the target again, this time Bhaichung exhibiting superb ball control and good finish. After receiving a pass from Tomba, the Indian captain beat two defenders, turned around and found the target with a right footer.

The change of sides also unfolded in the same manner as India kept up the pressure and made several moves. Ten minutes into the half, Asani fell down after knocking off Bhaichung. The referee showed the Zimbabwean the marching order, even though his teammates protested over his decision.

From then on, Zimbabwe went all out. However, in a counter-attack, Rennedy came up with an unbelievable goal as his rasping right-footed long-ranger left the rival goalkeeper Chenjerai Dube clueless.

Zimbabwe made quick substitutions thereafter, including the goal keeper. The fresh bloods injected in the Zimbabwean team forced India custodian Sangram Mukherjee to effect a few saves, while the defence had a difficult time in ensuring no significant dents were marked in India’s way to the final.

However, Zimbabwe’s persistence in attack bore fruit in the 81st minute. Defender Satish Bharti handled a ball while clearing it and Mashiri converted the resultant spot-kick.

In the very next minute, India were given a penalty kick after the Indian captain was tripped by his Zimbabwean counterpart Peter Moyo and Bhaichung’s shot sailed into the top right corner of the net.

Four minutes later, striker Chipunza slammed in the third goal for his team with a header off a cross from the right.

“It’s a great win. No one believed we could win. Zimbabweans are ranked much higher than ours. This is our second win over an African nation,” said India’s chief coach Stephen Constantine.

Commenting on the final margin after being up 4-1, Bhaichung said: “I would have been satisfied even with a 1-0 win. A win was what we wanted”.

In the Uzbekistan-Rwanda final, the former went into the lead in the 63rd minute through Saidov Mansurjon, but Mulisa Jimmy scored the equaliser 10 minutes later. The match subsequently went into the extra time and the golden goal came in the 12th minute of the extended play.

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