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Lankans hope to regain supremacy

Sri Lanka’s finest moment in soccer was on April 02, 1995, 14 years ago when the National Soccer Team won the Bristol SAARC Gold Cup in Colombo beating India 1-0 in the final.

For the past 14 years Sri Lanka has not achieved much success in the international soccer scene. Can the youthful Sri Lanka National Football team who will be playing in the AFC Challenge Cup-2010 qualifying round matches starting today April 4 along with Pakistan, Chinese Taipei and Brunei could emerge group champions? The success on the football fields of Asia has been hard to come by over the years.

SRI LANKA TEAM: (Seated from Left): Sajaya Pradeep Kumara, Kasun Jayasuriya, R. T. G. Raheem, June Karunaratne (Goalkeeper Trainer), Sampath Perera (Coach), Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (Chief De Mission), Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris (Manager), Sumith Walpola (Assistant Coach), S.N.P.K. Silva (Messier), Chathura Madurange, E.B. Channa, Mohamed Asmeer, Rohana Ruwanthilake (Standing from Left): Y. Sadhishkumar (Goalkeeper), Rajitha Jayavilal, M.S. Sameera Perera, Dumidu Hettiarachchi, Sanka Danushka Wijesiri, W.M. Chameera Krishantha, K. Chathuranga Kumara Lankesara, P.R. Dilipa Dalpedadu - Shanmugaraj, Sanjeev, Suranda Bandara, M.N. Nagur Meena, Nalinda Kumara Konara, Lahiru Tharaka Silva, Anton Nimal, H.M. Ajith Kumara (Goalkeeper)

According to Sampath Perera, National coach our soccer team is expected to oblige the local soccer fans with some good performance during the five day tournament.

The Lankan team is raring to go and I am confident that the team will perform according to their merits and skills and take the top spot. We have the strikers with ability to hit the net and reliable and brave defence line to prevent and halt the opposing team forwards attempts to score.

Sri Lanka’s first victory in International Football came in 1952 when they beat Burma 2-1 in the Third Asian Quadrangular Tournament in Calcutta. Sri Lanka footballers main aim will be first to get through this tournament and qualify to play in the next round.

The SAARC Gold Cup ticked off at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Saturday March 25 in 1995. It was hot and humid and the fans sadly stayed away for the opening ceremony and the Group ‘A’ match between Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka should have been playing the Maldives in Group ‘B’ but the match was cancelled when the Maldives withdrew at short notice saying a busy domestic schedule took priority over the championship of South Asia, Pakistan I, Bangladesh. Two days later it was Bangladesh 2 Nepal 0. But still there were signs of life from the City’s football community.

On Wednesday, March 29 day three of the tournament things began to change. Needing to beat Pakistan by two goals to qualify for the semi-finals, Nepal staged a grandstand finish to earn a 2-0 victory and clinch runner-up spot behind group ‘A’ Champions Bangladesh.

Now the drama began in the first and only Group B fixture India, winners of the first SAARC Gold Cup in Lahore, Pakistan in July 1993 faced Sri Lanka.

Runner-up in the previous edition. Both teams had qualified automatically for the second semi finals but this did not lessen the intensity of the occasion as regional pride was at stake.

India looking slick and well organised under Uzbek coach Rustam Akramon silenced the Sri Lanka supporters with two beautifully headed goals from ‘wonder boy’ Bhaichung Bhutia.

Enter Amanulla - full name Mohamed Amanulla Mohideen omitted from the original squad at his own request because training clashed with the fasting month of Ramadan. Amanulla was called up on March 4 to replace the injured Renown striker Chaminda Steinwall.

There were so many protests by soccerites for Amanulla’s late inclusion. There was only one way for Amanulla to prove the doubters wrong and he did it with two goals to force a 2-2 draw with India.

The first came from the penalty spot after he had been fouled by Indian full back K. V. Danesh, the second just three minutes from full time owed more luck than judgement when his cross from the right flank dropped in at the far post.

It was the first time Sri Lanka had not been beaten by India since 1952 when the sides drew 1-1 in Calcutta and the fans thirsted for more action and excitement.

In the semi-finals Sri Lanka defeated Nepal 2-1 with goals coming off the boots of Amanulla and his strike partner for Club (Ratnam SC) and country Roshan Perera.

The evenings of the final against India by now the interest was at fever pitch and the stadium was surrounded by tuk-tuks, cars and other vehicles crammed with fans carrying flags and flares.

The ground was full to its 25,000 capacity and around 10,000 more were locked out, causing problems for security staff who clearly had been taken by surprise.

After a goalless first-half the heavens opened and lightning flashed all round the ground.

Surely the match would have to be abandoned under such conditions and the teams would have to share the prizes as joint champions. All credit then go to George Joseph the AFC’s Match Commissioner from the PA of Malaysia. After consulting the local officials to discover the lie of the land he held on for 45 stormy minutes until the rain relented.

Incredibly the players were back within a couple of minutes and the second half ticked off on a pitch which looked none the worse for the watery battering it had just taken.

No goals in 90 minutes no sudden-death winner in the first period of extra time. With Amanulla out of ammunition and Perera now also a marked man Sri Lanka needed another hero. Yet again they found one in substitute David Sarath, a 25 year old corporal in the Sri Lanka Army who had come on in the 68th minute for his first senior cap.

In the 108th minute Perera broke down the left and his low cross was met by Sarath whose diving header flew into the far corner. Match over. Sri Lanka champions. Rarely can a victory have been celebrated so extravagantly.

Amanulla, Roshan Perera, Sarath, Goalkeeper of the tournament Lalith Weerasinghe skipper Sampath Perera. Vegetable vendor turned midfield tiger ‘Chutta’ - heroes one and all.


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