An inspired Sri Lanka, spurred by three goals from M.N.M. Issadeen, rocked the tournament with a sensational 4-3 win against Lebanon in the Nehru Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium here on Saturday. It was Lebanon's first defeat in two matches after the 1-0 verdict against India.The weather was just ideal and the teams came up with some intense stuff. The tempo was set with some early aggression and credit to Sri Lanka for remaining positive right through. The result was an ideal reflection of Sri Lanka's excellent performance. The pick of the Sri Lankan lot was E.B. Chenna, the roving playmaker with a flowing mane. He was a relentless threat to the Lebanese defence. His presence created confusion in the opposition ranks and Issadeen, who scored the first, second and fourth goals, capitalised on his good work.
Early indications of a racy encounter came when Chenna created the move for the first goal in the seventh minute. The ball was set rolling by Chathura Maduranga with a square pass and Chenna carried the move forward with an impeccable through pass for Issadeen to place it in style.Sri Lanka enjoyed the lead for a mere two minutes as Mohmoud El Ali floated the ball precisely to Akram Moghrabi, who headed in comfortably. Lebanon scored again during injury time of the first half when Al Saad Ali strongly headed in a cross from Mohammad Korhani.The red card to Moghrabi left Lebanon with ten men from the 41st minute and Sri Lanka exploited the situation.
It pounded the Lebanon goal with a few well-constructed moves and came to scoring twice but goalkeeper Lary Mehanna thwarted the moves with his anticipation. However, a concerted effort by Sri Lanka left Lebanon gasping. Three goals in nine minutes brought the house down.The equaliser for Sri Lanka came from Isadeen after Madurang's shot was blocked by the Lebanese goalkeeper. Soon came another goal when Raumy Mohideen made no mistake off a crafty ball on the top of the box from Maduranga. Sri Lanka slammed one more when Issadeen beat the goalkeeper with a deft placement on the turn. Sri Lanka closed the contest on a sad note when D. W. Hettiarachchi was sent off for an infringement on Korhani. The resultant penalty was converted by Korhani but Lebanon had run out of time.Baichung Bhutia is the face of Indian football. He now confronts a grave situation where the team looks up to him for deliverance. He is familiar with such challenges.
It is just that this one comes with India's appearance in the tournament just a match old.Having lost 0-1 to Lebanon, India must win against Krygystan on Sunday. A defeat could well mean end of the road unless providence shows the way.
Bhutia, who will be playing his 100th match (including friendlies), understands the gravity of the situation. “A lot depends on Sunday's match. We have to win. I hope the ground condition would be better than the first match,” said the star player. The Indian camp was unhappy with the tall grass in its match against Lebanon and chief coach Bob Houghton has been highly critical of the playing conditions.India has a couple of worries ahead of the match. Defender N.S. Manju, down with an ankle injury, paves the way for seasoned campaigner Mahesh Gawli while Deepak Mondal will replace Surkumar Singh, who is nursing a strained thigh.A comforting thought for Bhutia is that Sunil Chetri will be assisting him from the word go. “I am happy Sunil is in the starting line up,” said Bhutia. Chetri, who had played as a substitute in the last match, is expected to add teeth to the attack which will miss Sushil Singh, who twisted his ankle during practice on Friday.