By Rahul Bali with Ayush Srivastava at the stadium
Afghanistan sealed a semi-final berth in the 2013 SAFF Championship following their 3-1 win over Sri Lanka in a Group B encounter on Wednesday afternoon at the Halchowk stadium in Kathmandu.
The Lankans had taken the lead through Mohamed Fazaluzzaman but were pegged back in the second half thanks to a freakish goal from a corner by Mohammad Rafi , a stunning long ranger by Haroon Amiri before Hashmatullah Barakzai rounded off the scoring with the third to send Claudio Roberto’s side packing..
Following their humiliating 10-0 thrashing at the hands of Maldives, Weerasinghe Sujan,
Mohamed Sameer,Tuwan Rizvi and Mohamed Nazrullah Fazaluzzaman made their way into the starting eleven.
Afghanistan coach Yousef Kargar too made four changes to the team which scrambled to register a 3-0 victory over Bhutan as Mansur Faqiryar, Mohammad Marouf, Balal Arezou and Sanjdar Ahmadi were included in the line-up.
Mohammad Marouf had the first opportunity to score in the seventh minute but he fired his shot over the bar after Nipuna Bandara and Tharaka Silva failed to deal with a ball in the box.
The tempo of the game was understandably slow given that the teams are in action every alternate day at the SAFF Championship. It was a battle in midfield with Afghanistan coming out victorious in terms of possession but never really threatened the opposition backline.
In the 31st minute, Marouf appealed for a penalty after the ball seemed to have come off a Sri Lankan player’s hand but referee S.Pandey chose to waived play on.
It was Sri Lanka who took the lead through Mohamed Fazaluzzaman who burst through in a counter-attack and finished the move with a composed chip over the goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar.
Afghanistan had another plea for a penalty turned down when Tharaka Silva seemed to have blocked a shot from Ahmadi with the help of his hand.
At half-time, Sri Lanka lead by a 1-0 scoreline with Afghanistan looking frustrated after not being awarded two spot-kicks.
Eight minutes into the second half and the Lankans conceded a penalty due to a handball by Mohamed Sameer. Balal Arezou saw his effort from the spot being saved by Weerasinghe Sujan who dived to his right to claw the ball away.
Kargar’s side upped the pace after the break as they attacked in numbers with as many as nine-to-ten players in the opposition half.
The Lions of Khorasan finally got their equalizer in a freakish manner just after the hour mark when a corner-kick by Mohammad Rafi drifted over the custodian Weerasinghe Sujan to go straight into the net.
Haroon Amiri, the Afghanistan left-back, rifled a shot from outside the box which beat the goalkeeper all ends up to complete their comeback.
Thereafter, Sri Lanka committed men forward hoping to find a way back, there were always susceptible to a counter-attack. A long punt forward fell for substitute Hashmatullah Barakzai who rounded the custodian to slot the ball home in the 87th minute.
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