Lebanon earned full points in their opening match of the SAFF Championship 2023 when they defeated former champions Bangladesh 2-0 while Maldives registered a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Bhutan in the opening Group B matches at the Kanteerava Stadium on Thursday.

Lebanon shine

Two late goals from Hassan Maatouk and Khalil Bader were enough to break Bangladesh’s resistance.

Lebanon, ranked 99 in the Fifa rankings, are one of the two teams who are playing in the SAFF Championship for the first time as they have been invited from outside of the South Asia region.

Bangladesh’s best chance of the match came in the 59th minute. A defence-splitting pass from the midfield put Mohammed Foysal Ahmed Fahim face to face with Lebanon’s keeper Ali Sabeh, but his shot went straight to the keeper.

A costly defensive error from Bangladesh’s central defender Tariq Raihan Kazi helped Lebanon score the first goal in the 79th minute. As Tariq Kazi attempted to play out from the back, the ball fell for Karim Darwich who after a solo run squared off for Hassan Maatouk. Hassan kept his calm to score past Anisur Rahman.

Khalil Bader struck the second goal well into the added time when he tapped into an empty net following a pass from Zein Al Abidine Farran from the right.

10-men Maldives hold on for crucial win

Maldives took an early lead in the game when Hamza Mohamed converted from the spot in the 6th minute. The Maldives No 10 was brought down inside the box by Tenzin Dorji and he made no mistake in slotting the ball home for 1-0 from the penalty.

Maldives kept pushing for another goal, showing some good passages of play. In the 17th minute, Ibrahim Wahid Hassan went for glory from the left flank, but his fierce shot went agonisingly wide off the post.

Bhutan charged forward with vigour to pull back on level terms, but couldn’t find the end product. In the 23rd minute, the team missed a golden opportunity to equalise when Karma Shedrup Tshering’s powerful strike from outside the box was spilled by goalkeeper Hussain Shareef. However, Yeshi Dorji, who was the first to react, couldn’t beat the Maldives custodian from close range.

Ultimately, at the stroke of the 90th minute, substitute Naiz Hassan made it 2-0 for Maldives. The striker marched forward on the counter and managed to beat the goalkeeper from close range to put the game to bed.

Before the full-time whistle, Maldives were reduced to 10 men when the referee gave the marching orders to Hassan Raif Ahmed after a second yellow for a deliberate foul.

Next up, Lebanon will face Bhutan and Bangladesh will play against the Maldives on June 25.