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Draw puts India into last four

Dhaka: India needed just a draw against Sri Lanka to make it to the last four stage of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. They managed to do exactly that on Tuesday and thus stayed in contention for completing a hattrick of titles, but left a number of grey areas in its trail.

If the 0-1 loss to arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening group A match was viewed as ‘just a bad day in office’, the 4-0 walloping of debutants Afghanistan in the next match might have smacked of optimism and determination to set things in order.

However, India again proved against the islanders that it is, perhaps, too early to pin hopes on this depleted side. Ever an optimist, coach Stephen Constantine may think things will turn for the better from the knock-out stage, but the very fact that India just about made it to the next stage and that too, as second team behind Pakistan, means things are not going quite well with Debjit Ghosh & Co. Add to this also the fact that they have traditionally dominated the meet.

Ashim Biswas, the find of the Indian team here, handed the defending champions an 88th-minute lead. But no sooner had the Tollygunge Agragami striker ensured his team would finish the match on winning note, than came the rude shock. Sri Lankan substitute Abey Sekara restored parity in the match in the final minute of the scheduled time.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan rode a ninth-minute strike from Sharfraz Rasool to beat Afghanistan. They, thus, reached the semi-finals with an all-win record.

Both India and Sri Lanka completed their league engagements with four points each, but the Indians pipped them on goal difference.

India were a pale shadow of themselves, a far cry from their show in the LG Cup in Vietnam and distinctly lucky enough to keep themselves on course for the title.

India, however, were guilty of frittering away a number of scoring opportunities that came their way with Ashim being the offender on a couple of occasions.

Ashim, however, joined Rasool and Maldives’ Ali Shiham as the tournament’s leading scorers.

India are likely to face hosts Bangladesh in the semi-finals.

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