‘Sri Lanka playing South Korea is like playing against a European team’ | Sunday Observer

‘Sri Lanka playing South Korea is like playing against a European team’

12 June, 2021

Football fans in Sri Lanka are used to seeing their national team being literally beaten by cricket scores whenever they play an international. It may no longer be the case in future going by Sri Lanka’s performance at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 matches against Lebanon and South Korea.

They not only played with passion and pride but displayed tactical nous and the hunger to score goals against world class opposition in South Korea.

The results were inevitable, losing narrowly to Lebanon 3-2 and suffering a 5-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea. But Amir Alagic’s men have raised the hopes of a footballing nation which has been belittled by all and sundry as they are ranked 204 out of 206 countries which play this beautiful game.

The gallant show against Lebanon not only warmed the cockles of despondent Sri Lankan football fans but were bracing for a tough contest against 39th ranked South Korea who won the first leg 8-0.

Former Sri Lanka centre forward Naina Mohamed was one of those who enjoyed watching Sri Lanka’s performance which was televised nationally.

“After a long time we saw a good performance by the national team. With this team and coach, we can hope to cause an upset at the SAFF Cup. Earlier we only thought of participating in a tournament,” said the former Zahira and York SC striker.

“I don’t agree when people say it was a poor show. The result or number of goals scored against us is immaterial. People have to understand that playing South Korea is like playing against a European team. It is like playing against Holland, Italy, Germany or England,” said Naina who felt Sri Lanka played much better against South Korea than Lebanon comparatively.

“In the Lebanon match we were defending. We attacked a little against South Korea. On the other hand, South Korea slowed the pace of the game after scoring a couple of goals. They didn’t contest 50-50 balls. But they put immense pressure in the opening minutes of the game forcing several corners,” he said.

In fact South Korea enjoyed 80% of possession and had 18 shots at goal as against two by Sri Lanka, eight of which were on target.

“True we were not holding onto the ball, lacked ball positioning and there were many poor passes. That was because the pressure is great when we play a stronger team. Fitness is one area we need to develop further,” said Naina who represented Sri Lanka from 1983 to 1990 and played as an 18-year-old alongside national stars such as Rumy Packeerally, Asoka Ravindra, ‘Pala’ Wijesekera, Damodaran ‘Raja’ Chandrasiri, Upul Premalal, Balendra of Navy and Anura de Silva, the present president of Football Sri Lanka (FSL).

A national selector now, Naina lauded the exemplary performance of skipper Sujan Perera at goal and defender Jude Supan but he felt the impact of foreign players could be determined when Sri Lanka played with teams at their level like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

“Hats off to the coach and team management. They have performed wonders to transform the team. After a long time we can be proud of the Sri Lanka football team. If I am the president of the Football Federation, I would give them a bonus of Rs 50,000 each as a motivation for the future,” he said.