Maldives finishes top of AFC Challenge Cup group after Tajikistan draw

The Maldives’ national football team has inched past rivals Tajikistan to finish top of their qualifying group for next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup finals on the basis of goal difference following a 0-0 draw between the two nations in Male’ yesterday.

After winning the opening two qualifying matches in Group C, which have all been hosted this week at the national stadium in Male’, a goalless draw with second place Tajikistan was enough for the Maldives to finish leaders of their group after scoring a higher number of goals.

According to the AFC table, in subtracting the number of goals conceded to those scored, the Maldives finished above its second place rival 5-4.

However, the draw between the top two teams of group C proved to be a very different game to the day’s other match held in Male’; where Cambodia finished at the bottom of their respective qualifying table after losing to Kyrgyzstan 4-3.

Kyrgyzstan led the match from just five minutes in as Aziz Sydykov put them ahead before Kouch Sokumpheak responded with an equaliser by the 39th minute of the game. Cambodia still finished the half a goal down though after Rustem Usanov scored in stoppage time.

Cambodia’s Sokumpheak responded once again to open the scoring in the second half to ensure the game remained 2-2 up until ten minutes before the final whistle.

Cholponbek Esenkul Uulu allowed Kyrgyzstan to once again take the lead in the 80th minute before scoring his second of the match five minutes later to put the score line at 4-2.

With just a minute to go until the final whistle, Cambodia’s Sok Rithy scored the team’s third goal of the match, but the effort wasn’t enough to prevent a third defeat out of the three qualifying games the team has played in Male’ this week.

With the qualifiers now concluded, the Maldives will compete with seven other nations including India, Turkmenistan and fellow Group C rival Tajikistan in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup. A host nation has not yet been selected for the tournament but is expected to be drawn from among one of the eight finalists under AFC rules.

The last AFC Challenge Cup tournament was held in Sri Lanka during February 2010 and won by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.