ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 01, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 53

Sri Lanka gears up for another plum

SAFF Championships 2008

By M. Shamil Amit

The Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) has finalized all arrangements to conduct the South Asian Football Federation Cup (SAFF) which is scheduled to kick off on June 4 at the Sugathadasa Stadium. Sri Lanka will conduct the Group ‘B’ encounter with host Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan contesting in this group.

The championship is originally scheduled to get underway on June 3 with co-host Maldives which will be conducting the Group ‘A’ games with host Maldives, Pakistan, India and Nepal playing in this group. The championship began in 1993 and was held in Lahore, Pakistan was then called the South Asian Football Federation Gold Cup and is held every two years.

The Sri Lanka contingent

In 1993 the championship was named the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation Gold and South Asian Gold Cup in 1995. This will be the seventh in the series. Of the six championship that have been conducted so far India lead with four wins having won it in 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2005 while Sri Lanka in 1995 and Bangladesh in 2003 have won one each. This will be the second time that Sri Lanka will be hosting this event having done so in 1995 when they emerged the champions.

The FFSL in preparation for the championship has named a 23 member squad with midfielder Chathura Maduranga Weerasinghe of Ratnam SC being selected to lead the Sri Lanka team.

Twenty six year old Maduranga is an experienced campaigner who will be leading the side for the third time having first led the side at last year’s World Cup qualifier match against Qatar and followed by leading the side for the Asian Challenge Cup held in Taiwan recently.

Sri Lanka’s performance in that tournament was encouraging as they defeated Pakistan (7-1), Guam (5-1) and drew with Taiwan (2-2) to qualify for the final round which is scheduled to be played in July in India.

Apart from skipper Maduranga there are few other experienced players in the caliber of forwards Kasun Jayasuriya who has been the leading goal scorer, E.B. Channa and Asmeer Ali along with goal keeper Dhammika Tillekeratne to deliver the goods for the local boys.

The fine combination by the blend of youth and experienced players has seen the side being successful in most of the international tournaments they have participated and the recent success in the Asian Challenge Cup has given the boys the much needed confidence.

Another factor in the boys performing so well is the coaching of Korean Jang Jung who has turned them to match winning combination with his expertise. Though the Indians are the favourites to win the title for the fifth time they will face stiff opposition from host Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with Maldives who have from recently begun to show tremendous improvement also there in contention. But Afghanistan too could pull off some surprises.

But the Sri Lankan lads won’t leave any stone unturned and will put in all their effort to clinch the title again on their home ground. They will have the advantage of the support from their local supporters who will definitely come in numbers to give the local boys the much needed booster and confidence.

The SAAF Championships dubbed as the World Cup for South Asian countries is sponsored by World Sport Group (WSG) Singapore who has doing so since 1993 will be offering prize money worth US$95,000 with the winner carrying away $50,000 the first runner up $25,000 and the second runner up $10,000.

The schedule:

Group ‘A’ – June 3 – Nepal vs India and Maldives vs Pakistan. June – 5 – Pakistan vs India and Maldives vs Nepal. June 7 – Pakistan vs Nepal and Maldives vs India.

Group ‘B’ – June 4 – Bangladesh vs Bhutan and Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan. June 6 – Afghanistan vs Bangladesh and Sri Lanka vs Bhutan. June 8 – Afghanistan vs Bhutan and Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh.

Semi Finals – June 11 at Male and Sugathadasa Stadium. Final – June 14 - Sugathadasa Stadium at 7.30 p.m.

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