Ayush Ghalan, Kritish Ranta Chhunju and Managya Nakarmi all were on target as Nepal defeated Sri Lanka 2-0 to register their second consecutive victory in the SAFF U-20 Championship at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India on Wednesday.
Captain Ghalan gave Nepal the lead in the 59th minute and Chhunju doubled the lead six minutes later before Nakarmi put the result beyond doubt in a sensational second half that strengthened Nepal’s bid to qualify for finals.
Nepal coach Meghraj KC fielded the same squad that routed the Maldives 4-0 on Monday. But Nepal initially struggled against a sturdy Sri Lankan defence, which Bangladesh coach Paul Thomas Smalley has described as unusual, that has made the Lankans not an easy target in the tournament.
And their uncanny defence worked well in the first half with Nepal managing few chances at goal.
Ghalan was one of the busiest throughout the play. The skipper made the first effort in the 10th minute curling a shot from the edge of the area but it went wide. Ghalan also set up Sugam Suwal towards the end of the first half only for his rising header to inch just off the bar.
Nepal had also had a goal disallowed midway into the first half when Ajay Chaudhary’s scorcher deflected off a Sri Lankan player and deceived their goalkeeper Banuka Croos into the back of the net but match referee Uddin Nasir had already blown the whistle for a foul against Ashish Rai.
It was Sri Lanka who almost took the lead in the 23rd minute when Muhammedhu Munsif caught Nepal napping at the back but his left-footed effort from near the six-yard box hit the side bar.
Nepal upped the pressure after the break forcing Sri Lanka to remain behind and they were rewarded near the hour mark.
Sri Lanka glovesman Croos thumped away a cross from Abhishek Waiba only for the ball to find Ghalan inside the penalty area and the captain volleyed home the rebound to break the deadlock.
Chhunju then furthered the advantage with a dazzling strike from just outside the box after he was set up by Ghalan.
Nakarmi squared with Suwal to coolly slot in from the close range to wrap up the victory.
Nepal were not among the favourites but KC’s team have now established themselves as a formidable force in the tournament scoring seven goals in two games and without conceding one.
Nepal’s goalie Ishwor Gurung has been one of the best in the business in the tournament and he brilliantly denied Sri Lanka a chance of redemption with a great save in the injury time.
Meanwhile, defending champions India lost to Bangladesh 2-1.
The win sends Nepal at the top of standings with six points. Bangladesh also have six points after two wins but Nepal sit on top due to superior goal difference.
Nepal next face India on July 31 before ending their group campaign with a match against Bangladesh on August 2.
The top two teams will vie for the title in the August 5 final.