India held by resolute Sri Lanka in second SAFF Championship encounter

The Indian football team experienced yet another frustrating evening at the National Football Stadium in Malé, as they played out a 0-0 draw against Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan team were resolute in defence, offering very little space for the Indian team to play through.

The draw meant that Sri Lanka got their first point on the board in the SAFF Championship 2021, after 2 consecutive losses against Bangladesh and Nepal. The Indian team has accumulated two points from their two drawn games in the tournament thus far.

It was a cagey encounter throughout the ninety, as neither goalkeeper had vital saves to pull off. The Blue Tigers were dominant in possession yet again, commanding 73% of the ball, but failed to convert their possession into clear chances. Sri Lanka’s game plan was evident from kick-off, as the Golden Army looked to stay compact in defence, slow down the game and break the flow of their opposition.

The first real chance of the game fell to India in the 22nd minute, when Udanta Singh’s cross from deep, curled past the Lankan defence and found an unmarked Liston Colaco arriving in the box. The Goan winger failed to capitalize on the opportunity, heading the ball off-target. Udanta’s pace continued to be a threat down the right flank, as he combined well with Seriton Fernandes on a few occasions.

Minutes before the first half break, Subashish Bose climbed above his marker to win the header from an Anirudh Thapa corner, but couldn’t keep his effort on target, which led to another chance being squandered by the Indians. Despite getting a plethora of set pieces in the first half, the Indian team barely challenged keeper Sujan Perera, which meant the teams headed into the half-time interval all square.

Mohammad Yasir was brought on for Suresh Singh at the start of the second half, with the hopes of adding a creative twist in the midfield. Yasir’s addition helped India quicken the tempo of the game, as the youngster expertly found space in midfield and distributed the ball all over the pitch. The Blue Tigers had one of their best spells in the initial 15 minutes of the second half, as they looked extremely threatening with the ball. Their intricate interplay presented them with a brilliant opportunity in the 56th minute, as Udanta received a chipped through ball on the edge of the box, but his cross couldn’t find any takers in the middle, as the opposition keeper collected it with ease.

Another huge opportunity was wasted in the 60th minute, as an onrushing Anirudh Thapa failed to tap in Mandar’s low fizzing cross into the box, keeping the scoreline intact at 0-0.

On the other end of the field, Rahul Bheke’s square pass in the middle of the pitch was nearly intercepted by Dillon de Silva in the 63rd minute, but Subashish Bose got back in time to nick the ball off the Lankan forward.

Igor Štimac made a double change in the 68th minute, bringing on Farukh Choudhary in place of Anirudh Thapa, and Sahal Abdul Samad for Liston Colaco. Farukh nearly had an immediate impact, as in the 72nd minute, his shot from outside the 18-yard area rippled the back of the net, but the referee had blown his whistle just before the shot was taken, for an offence by Subashish Bose in the opposition box.

India had a late surge for an opening goal, as they created several chances at the end of the ninety. Talisman Sunil Chhetri nearly latched onto a Gurpreet Singh Sandhu goal kick which beat the Lankan defence in the 87th minute, and in the next minute, Sahal’s ball from to the far post couldn’t be cut back by the outstretched foot of Chhetri, keeping Sujan Perera’s clean sheet intact. Subashish Bose had a golden opportunity to win the game for his country in the 89th minute, as Chhetri’s flick from the near post, was skied over the crossbar, by the right foot of Bose.

An additional eight minutes of injury time weren’t sufficient for the Blue Tigers to break the deadlock, as the referee blew for full time in the capital of Maldives, which helped the Lankan side breathe a huge sigh of relief after a laborious outing against the Indian team.

The Indian team will face-off against table-toppers Nepal on 10th October at 9.30 PM IST, while Sri Lanka will face hosts Maldives the same evening at 4.30 PM IST.

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