U-20s seal spot in SAFF final
Bangladesh emerged as group champions and booked a place in the SAFF U-20 Championship final after playing out a 1-1 draw against Nepal in an ill-tempered final group-stage match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar yesterday.
Piash Ahmed Nova gave Bangladesh a second-half lead which was canceled out by substitute Niranjan Malla in a game that saw the referee give marching orders to a player each from each side just two minutes into the second half following an ugly scuffle. Players from both benches and Nepal's reserves also ran out to join the scuffle, which resulted in Rohit Subra, who was on the bench, being also sent off.
But the budding footballers showed their spirit of sportsmanship at the end of the day, shaking hands at the final whistle.
Ahead of the game, Bangladesh had all but secured passage to the final, needing only to avoid losing by more than five goals to progress, and opted to rest three key players -- Shahin Mia, Mirajul Islam and Murshed Ali. On the other hand, Nepal improved considerably after being hammered 8-0 by India in their previous game and pressed hard from the world go.
Paul Smalley's charges lacked the incision that they had shown in the previous matches, mishitting passes, crosses and shots and displaying less off-the-ball movement overall, but a good performance from the backline and goalkeeper Mohammad Asif kept Bangladesh in the game.
Rafiqul Islam ran down the right from a counter-attack and entered the box before cutting back for Nova, who made no mistake in driving home from inside the box in the 63rd minute. But Nepalese substitute Niranjan brilliantly leveled the margin in 68th minute, dribbling among three and making the space to strike a stunning left-footed drive from the top of the box.
Bangladesh could have notched up a fourth straight win had Nova, Rafiqul Islam and substitute Mojibur Rahman Jony not squandered one-on-one opportunities.
Bangladesh will play the final on August 5 against either Nepal or India, who were scheduled to play their last match against Maldives last night with a draw enough for India to advance.