Wasteful Nepal share spoils with Sri Lanka after 1-1 drawThe visitors stunned the home crowd with a late equaliser as Nepal missed several chances on either half.
Hosts Nepal were held to a 1-1 draw by Sri Lanka in the 13th South Asian Games men’s football match at the Dashrath Stadium in Tripureshwor on Wednesday.
Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan rang one change to the side that beat Bhutan 4-0 on Tuesday, giving winger Rejin Subba a start in place of midfielder Sunil Bal.
Captain Sujal Shrestha put Nepal 1-0 up from the spot in the 36th minute, but Sri Lanka staged a late comeback as Sebamalainayakam Jude Supan equalised in stoppage time.
“Our target was not to drop points against Sri Lanka. We lost composure in the last two minutes which eventually cost us two precious points,” Maharjan said.
"As the top two teams play for the gold, we will press for win in the two remaining matches," said Maharjan, adding, "Sri Lanka came into this match after a rest day, but this our second game in as many days. We are facing a strong opposition in the Maldives in the next match, but we have a two-day break and will be ready for them."
"We created several chances in the opening half but failed to capitalise them. We had a poor second half as we struggled to translate chances that we had, especially from set-pieces. It was one of those days when things just don’t go in your favour," said Maharjan.
Subba had a golden opportunity to put Nepal ahead in the 9th minute, but he fired his shot above an empty post with Lankan ’keeper Sujab Perera out of his position. Seven minutes later, Bikram Lama headed wide off-target on Abhishek Rijal's cross.
Another promising cross from Bikash Khawas went begging in the 19th minute with no support up front.
The Lankan custodian also came to his team’s rescue, denying captain Shrestha's long-range effort in the 21st minute. Ten minutes on, the home crowd were on their feet after Tej Tamang had a clear chance just outside the area, but he shot it wide.
With the home crowd, who turned out in larger numbers compared to the Bhutan match on Tuesday, ushering their team to the hilt making Mexican waves with chants of ‘Rato ra Chandra Surya’ Nepal looked for an opening goal.
Their relentless effort eventually paid off in the 36th minute after Tamang was brought down inside the area. Shrestha, who scored a brace against Bhutan, made no mistake from the spot to give Nepal a 1-0 lead.
He had another chance a minute from half time, but his header off a Rijal cross sailed over the bar.
Nepal won several set pieces, but the hosts failed to make them count. Ananta Tamang wasted a chance in the 83rd minute.
The visitors then put an ice-cold dagger through the hearts of the home crowd in the 90th minute when the Sri Lankan earned a free-kick 20 yards from Nepal goal. Sri Lankan captain Mohamed Fazal made a dummy and Supan shot past the diving Nepali custodian Bikesh Kuthu.
Sri Lanka coach MN Packeer Ali was content with his team's performance. “Our boys performed very well against Nepal who are strong, more at their home," he said afterwards. "A loss to Nepal would have put us in a difficult situation in the tournament, as everyone is aiming for gold."
Defending his side’s physical approach in the match, Ali said, "Football is a contact sport and a game of emotions and sentiments. That's just football."
Nepal are still on top of the standings with four points. Bhutan, who have three points from a win against Bangladesh are second, while Sri Lanka are tied with the Maldives on two points. Top two teams from the round-robin league will qualify for the final while the third- and fourth-placed teams play for the bronze.
Nepal play their next match against the Maldives on Saturday, while the Lankans take on Bangladesh on Thursday.