Syria and Lebanon gave vent to their temper only for a brief period in a match that was expected to produce explosive football in the Nehru Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium here on Thursday. In an otherwise clean but drab encounter, Syria overcame Lebanon 1-0 to take its appointed place in the final.
Syria, with a match against India in hand, has nine points and leads the table. Sri Lanka, the other team in the fray, has three points with a match against Krygystan on Friday. India enjoys a goal difference of +2 against Sri Lanka’s -5.
Given the scenario back home, not hosting each other for football matches, Syria and Lebanon showed remarkable restraint even though some hard tackling marked the first half. There was, however a short phase in the second half when the Lebanese, demanding a penalty, created an ugly scene.
The game was 20 minutes into the second half when Akram Moghrabi was brought down and the referee, Rowan Arumughan, had a tough time controlling the situation. He was crowded by three Syrian players even as team skipper Bilal El Najjarine showed the leadership to pacify his mates.
With Lebanese striker El Ali and Syrian midfielfder Mustafa Shakoush shaking hands to defuse the situation, the game resumed, much to the relief of the two benches and the organisers. There was no card flashed for any player.
Syria and Lebanon made the most of the pleasant playing conditions. Rain in evening had cooled the city but poor attendance hardly motivated the players to raise their game. They were too happy to play at a measured pace.
Syria was expected to dominate and it showed early signs of playing positive football with a 2-5-3 formation. The Lebanese stuck to their preferred combination of 2-4-4 but found it tough to make inroads into the rival territory.
The 24th minute goal was the creation of a splendid curling ball from way outside the box by Wael Ayan. The ball skidded but Mohamad Alzino showed the anticipation to guide the ball in with a skillfully executed flick on the run. The Lebanese defence stood in a daze even as Syria celebrated the goal. The team found support from the stands, too, since a Syrian victory meant the elimination of Lebanon.
Syria came close to scoring twice midway through the second session when Raja Rafe and Abdalrazak Al Housian broke into the box but their left-footers were awry.
Friday’s match: Sri Lanka v Krygystan