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India clear Lanka hurdle
- Hosts bolster final chances as Bhutia, Gourmangi and Dias score in 3-1 win

New Delhi: Stopper-back Gourmangi Singh scored his second international goal as India defeated Sri Lanka 3-1 for their second consecutive win in the ONGC Nehru Cup on Wednesday.

The capacity crowd at the Ambedkar Stadium, that fell silent after Well Don Ruwanthilake cancelled Bhaichung Bhutia’s first-half strike in the 61st minute, was thrown into a frenzy when young Gourmangi restored India’s lead with an opportunistic goal in the 69th minute.

Operating on the right, Steven Dias, who was the live wire in the Indian attack, took a free kick that was headed on by midfielder N.P. Pradeep. Lanka ’keeper Asanka Viraj was able to block it but could only look on helplessly when Gourmangi darted in to tap home and put India back in the lead.

The last time the Manipuri defender scored for his country was in the SAFF Cup in 2008.

Once the Lankan defence had been breached, India were all over their rivals. Dias rounded off the tally five minutes before the final whistle when he broke through the flank to bang in a right footer.

The victory has taken India’s tally to six points, at par with Syria on the top of the table. Depending on the next two days, unless Lebanon and Sri Lanka upset their rivals and India lose to Syria, the hosts should play August 31’s final.

Like versus Kyrgyzstan the other day, India were once again deserving winners and the victory-margin could have been bigger. While the Indians wasted three chances in the first session the Lankans had at least four close shaves in the second half. To cap it all, the woodwork came to the visitors’ rescue on at least three occasions.

Bob Houghton’s men, who had to counter taller opponents in their first two matches, looked a lot more comfortable against the Lankans. For the first time in the tournament, India played a lot of ground passes to trouble the Lankans.

In the first half, Bhaichung once again came to India’s rescue when the others were finding it difficult to penetrate the Lanka defence. Although India were all over their rivals right from the word go, the goal remained elusive until the 25th minute when the Indian captain came up yet with another spectacular strike.

The move was initiated by Surkumar Singh on the right and the ball was provided by Steven Dias. It was a perfect out-swinging cross that beat Viraj under the bar. Bhaichung, who was following the ball keenly, jumped high to snatch a header that found its target.

Fifteen years in international football and Bhaichung hasn’t lost any of his sharpness. No wonder, he was named Man of the Match for the second time in the five-nation meet.

The Indian game plan was simple and clear. Knowing that a win was necessary to stay in the race, the hosts went into the attack mode straight from the start.

Also, much to the home team’s delight, left midfielder Anthony Pereira showed why Dempo considered him their most valuable player in the last AFC Cup campaign.

Teams

India: Subrata Paul; Surkumar Singh, Gourmangi Singh, Anwar and Mahesh Gawli; Steven Dias (Syed Rahim Nabi, 87th), Climax Lawrence, N.P. Pradeep (Mehrajuddin Wadoo, 89th) and Anthony Pereira (Rennedy Singh, 62nd); Sunil Chetri and Bhaichung Bhutia.

Sri Lanka: Asanka Viraj; W.D. Ruwanthilake, S. Sanjeev, R.N. Warakagoda and Hettiarachchi; M. Asmeer (R.M. Rathnayake, 65th), Chathura Maduranga and Chathura Gunaratne; M.N. Issadeen, G.B. Channa (Tharisha Rangana, 46th) and Raumy Mohideen.

Referee: Adil Ali (The Maldives)

MoM: Bhaichung Bhutia

Thursday’s match: Syria vs

Lebanon (6.30pm).

Related reports on Page 16

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