Thousands of Maldivians welcomed home the national football team last night, filling Republican Square to the brim following the team’s narrow defeat to India in the SAFF final held in Bangladesh.
Goal.com reported that despite the Maldivian team’s unlucky defeat, their prowess on the field has made them “the soccer power of South Asia” while “captain Ali Ashfag has been acclaimed as the best player in the region.”
The team were greeted at Male International Airport by officials from the airport and the Football Association, as well as vice president Dr Mohamed Waheed. The group travelled to Republican Square in a brightly coloured boat where they were led through the crowds of spectators to the back of a pick up truck. The team then toured the streets of Male, to the delight of cheering supporters, disembarking at Lonuziyaaraiykolhu to shake hands with assembled fans.
The muted celebrations after Sunday’s defeat in a 3:1 penalty shoot-out were forgotten as thousands thronged the streets, cheering and honking the horns of their motorcycles.
The victorious Indian team had less of a welcome, after their flight home to Mumbai was delayed by more than 12 hours. After two hours sleep at what a senior player described as “a third class hotel”, the team returned to the airport at 5am only to be told the flight would not depart until later that evening.
“We haven’t slept for the last two nights,” said Indian coach Sukhwinder Singh, when he finally arrived back in Mumbai.