Sri Lanka made their way to the semi final of the 7th SAFF Championship yesterday when they defeated Bangladesh in a hotly contested game at the Sugathadasa Stadium under lights, one goal to nil.
This match was the best contested one in the Group `B`. Sri Lanka will now clash with Maldives who were placed runners-up in Group A. In the meantime Bhutan too qualified to play in the semi final against India, the Group `A` leaders, in Maldives.
The battle began with Sri Lanka with a slight advantage over their rivals. But things changed from the beginning and it was the visitors who were in control of the game during most part of the first session.
Though Sri Lankans were not in control they made many inroads to their opponents territory but failed to find the net to put the Lankans in front. Kasun Jayasuriya and E. B. Channa were the players who could not make good use of the opportunities they received from the mid fielders. The mid fielders performed an excellent job by feeding the front liners.
The defenders had a tough time during the first forty five minutes of play as the Bangladeshis were moving fast towards the goal area. They acted swiftly to thwart all attempts made by the opponents. This resulted in the first session ending with a goalless score card.
The Lankans came back with determination and got off to a good start for the second session.
The local team played fast soccer while the rivals had to drop back to avoid scoring. This became a big hindrance to the visitors and did not get many opportunities to penetrate the defence line of the locals. But Bangladeshis on the other side tried few shots at the goal these were saved by the goalie or the defenders on many occasions.
Both teams played hard, to get the goal needed to be in the box seat. All these attempts were futile. During this session the Lankans failed to capitalise from the corner kicks taken by E. B. Channa. He was right on target with his kicks. But the players following could not find the correct aim.
The game continued until the 73rd minute when Sri Lanka won a corner. This too was kicked by the striker Channa. He lobbed it to Rawmy Mohideen who collected the ball and made a fine kick which struck one of the defenders and moved straight into the net.
This put things harder for the visitors but they kept the pressure on to find the equaliser.
With about ten minutes left for the final whistle, Sri Lanka`s main striker was replaced by Chathura Lakruwan. Rawmy Mohideen too came to the field only after the lemons. Altogether Lankans did four changes during the 90 minutes of play.
At the post match conference Mohammed Abu Yosuf the coach of the Bangladesh team said the better team won the day. My boys did a wonderful job to contain the strong Lankans to a single goal. Though we lost, I am happy with the soccer displayed by my team.
Lankan coach said the strikers failed at the start but tried their best to attack. Playing in front of the home crowd, players are eager to shine themselves. This should have been the case with Kasun and Channa. Their over-confidence at times does not bring in good results. We hope to put up a better show when we confront Maldives on Wednesday in the semi-final.
Imtiaz Ali Shah of Pakistan refereed.
In Maldives on Saturday, Nepal defeated Pakistan 4 goal to 1, while India beat Maldives one goal to nil.
Though Maldives lost to India they have qualified to play in the semi-final after their two wins in the previous two games.
India were right on top of the table in Group `A` with three victories which goes to prove the defending champions strength.
If India wins the semi final against Bhutan on Wednesday, they will travel to Sri Lanka to play the final on Saturday, June 14.