Ayush Ghalan, Kritish Ranta Chhunju and Managya Nakarmi were all on target as Nepal defeated Sri Lanka 3-0 to register their second consecutive victory at 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 the finals. Nepal coach Meghraj KC fielded the same squad that routed Maldives 4-0 on Monday.
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 only able to manage few attempts at goal. Ghalan was one of the busiest throughout the game. The skipper made the first effort in the 10th minute curling a shot from the edge of the area, only to see it go wide. Ghalan also set up Sugam Suwal towards the end of the first half, with his rising header inches off the bar.
Nepal had a goal disallowed midway into the first half when Ajay Chaudhary’s scorcher deflected off a Sri Lankan player and deceived goalkeeper Banuka Croos, 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 which saw Sri Lanka scrambling in defence, 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 a comfortable victory.
Nepal were not among the favourites, but they have now established themselves as a formidable force in the tournament, scoring seven goals in two games without conceding any. Nepal’s goalie Ishwor Gurung has been one of the best in the business in this tournament, and he brilliantly denied Sri Lanka a chance of redemption with a great save in injury time.
Meanwhile, defending champions India lost to Bangladesh 2-1. The win sends Nepal top of the standings with six points. Bangladesh also have six points after two wins, but Nepal sit on top due to superior goal difference.