By Soubhik Ray
1995 SAFF Champions and semi-finalists at the last two editions- Sri Lanka have been a force to reckon with in South Asian football.
Pitted in Group A with India, Bhutan and Afghanistan the boys from the Emerald isle were expected to advance to the semis, at the least. But the Lankans finished a dismal third in their group as underdogs Afghanistan and defending champions India went through and all the Lankans managed was a lone win against lowly Bhutan.
Speaking after the 3-0 loss against India on Wednesday that knocked them out of contention for the semis, Sri Lanka coach Jang Jung said, “ We lost to the better team today (Wednesday). We tried our best but were not good enough.”
At half time on Wednesday, Sri Lanka showed some spark and were gritty enough to deny India a chance to score as it read 0-0. But just five minutes into the second half India found the goal through Jeje Lalpekhlua. Later, Sunil Chettri’s header in the 70th minute and an own goal from Lanka defender Bandara Warakagoda in the 93rd minute sealed it in India’s favour.
On being asked about what went wrong for the Sri Lanka side in the second half coach Jang Jung said, "In the first half, we were successful in restraining India. We denied them a goal despite infringements from their strikers."
"But in the second half we decided to open up and adopt attacking strategies to find the Indian nets as a draw would have ruined our plans for semis. This plan backfired on us instead," admitted the 47-year old Jung.
Champions in 1995 and semi-finalists in the previous two editions Sri Lanka looked a shadow of their glorious past as they conceded six goals compared to the five scored by them and managed a solitary win over Bhutan. They denied their fans of seeing them battle it out in the top flight for South Asia's coveted trophy- the SAFF Championship, as India,
Afghanistan, Nepal and Maldives marched through.
By Soubhik Ray