Afghanistan hold Sri Lanka to draw
Group B of the South Asian Championship begins with two draws in Colombo.
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2008 04:14 GMT
Sri Lanka striker Channa Ediribandange takes a shot on goal in the match with Afghanistan [Al Jazeera]
It may not be the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna or St. Jakob-Park in Basel, but the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo provided more than enough colour and atmosphere for a major tournament as Group B of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship kicked off in Sri Lanka.
A far cry from Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, the SAFF championship, co-hosted by Maldives and Sri Lanka, sees eight teams, all currently ranked lower than 151st in the world by Fifa, vying for South Asia's football crown.

The tournament officially kicked off on Tuesday in Male, with wins in Group A to Maldives and four-time champions India, over Pakistan and Nepal respectively.


In Group B, Afghanistan, ranked 196th in the world, almost caused an upset as they led 2-1 over hosts Sri Lanka midway through the second half, but a penalty to striker Channa Ediribandange levelled the scores in an exciting 2-2 encounter.


"A big compliment to both teams. We played football to make the fans happy."

Klaus Stark,
Afghanistan coach
Harez Arian Habib scored a goal in each half for Afghanistan, while Chathura Maduranga, Sri Lanka captain, netted the other goal for his team.


"A big compliment to both teams. We played football to make the fans happy," Klaus Stark, Afghanistan's German coach, told a press conference.


"I think today was a game that for 90 minutes they could enjoy football."


Testing conditions


The two matches in Colombo were played in testing conditions, thanks to a rare hot and sunny day after a week of monsoon rains in the south of the island nation.

"The weather conditions, we are not used to them," Stark said.


"The high humidity, the high temperatures, it was very hard for my players.


"As a sportsman, I have to say both teams deserved a point. I think the draw is okay."


Jang Jung, Sri Lanka's South Korean coach, was disappointed but accepting of his side's performance, telling anxious local journalists that there was no need to panic.


"Credit to our opponents. They showed a great performance," Jung said.


"But as the home team on our home ground, to collect just one point is very disappointing.


"Our group is open wide, so we still have to challenge."


Bangladesh draw Bhutan


Earlier, a first half goal to Arup Kumar Baidya gave Bangladesh the lead over Bhutan, but the team ranked 199th in the world hit back in the second half to snatch a handy 1-1 draw thanks to a delicate chip by first-half substitute Nima Sangay.


Bhutan had further chances, with midfielder Passang Tshering hitting the crossbar in the first half, and forward Gyeltshen missing a golden opportunity from five yards out when it looked easier to score.


The match descended into near darkness late in the second half as the sun set and the floodlights at Sugathadasa Stadium failed to turn on.


Pakistan referee Imtiaz Ali Shah stopped the match for five minutes and called the players off the field as SAFF officials and technicians searched frantically for the light switches.


So while Euro 2008 kicks-off this weekend, showcasing World Cup winning nations and some of the highest paid players from some of the best clubs in the world, South Asia is putting its footballing elite on display in Male and Colombo.


Although perhaps not as prestigious, the SAFF Championship has already provided enough entertainment and drama to suggest that football can be captivating no matter who is playing.

Al Jazeera
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