Lebanon and Bangladesh registered wins in their second Group B games in the 2023 SAFF Championship at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday to keep their semi-final qualification hopes alive.

Lebanon, 99 in the FIFA rankings, beat Bhutan 4-1 to make it two wins out of two matches while Bangladesh came from behind to register a 3-1 victory over island nation Maldives.

Aleksandar Ilic’s side are now on six points, followed by both Bangladesh and Maldives on three points. Bhutan, yet to open their account, are bottom of the table.

Lebanon one step closer to semis

Lebanon scored all their goals in the first half itself, with four different scorers finding the net.

Ali Tneich’s long-range half-volley, which skimmed just over the crossbar inside 40 seconds, was an indication of how the night would pan out, with lots of shots peppered on the Bhutan goal.

They were deservedly up in the 11th minute when Ali Al Haj showed quick feet inside the box before squeezing a shot on goal, which was spilled by Bhutan goalkeeper Tshering Dendup and Mohamad Sadek tapped home the rebound.

Al Haj’s dribbling prowess was on show again as he doubled Lebanon’s lead in the 23rd minute after twisting and turning in the box before slotting it past Dendup from close range.

Lebanon got their third in the 35th minute when Khalil Bader saw Tneich’s header blocked and was the quickest to pounce on the rebound and score.

Left-back Mahdi Zein also got in on the act and netted the fourth goal just before half-time, smashing in a loose ball after Sadek’s shot was blocked.

Lebanon eased their pressure considerably in the second half, which was more about Bhutan’s attempts to find a consolation goal. Gyeltshen had a golden opportunity to reduce the arrears when he was tripped near the by-line by Lebanon captain Mouhammed Ali Dhaini but sent the resultant penalty wide of the right post.

The Bhutan legend did, however, redeem himself in the 79th minute, latching onto a pass from Dorji before finding the bottom corner with a thumping volley from the edge of the area to score Bhutan’s first SAFF Championship goal since 2015.

Bangladesh keep last-four hopes alive

Bangladesh looked strong from the beginning as they dominated the game in the opponents’ half. However, despite making a few attempts to penetrate through the Maldives defence, the team couldn’t find the target.

On the other end, Maldives played on the counter, but couldn’t produce any dangerous attacking moves. Yet, to Bangladesh’s surprise, the island nation went on to take the lead in the 18th minute. It was a brilliant move that began from the right flank. Mohamed Irufaan passed the ball to Hamza Mohamed near the edge of the box and the striker drove it in perfectly into the bottom right corner.

The scoreline didn’t justify the trend of the match, as Bangladesh continued to hold the majority of ball possession and showed some good passages of play. In the 34th minute, the men in green had a golden opportunity to equalise from a corner. However, Topu Barman’s headed attempt was blocked by the Maldives defence and in the end, it came to nothing.

Nevertheless, Bangladesh continued to push for an equaliser and eventually, their efforts paid dividends in the 42nd minute. An incoming aerial delivery was headed inside the box by Barman once again and an unmarked Rakib Hossain directed it towards goal to make it 1-1.

Bangladesh continued to produce waves of attacks following the restart as they looked determined for full points. In the 67th minute, substitute Shekh Morsalin went for a shot from outside the box. Unfortunately, the ball deflected off a Maldives defender and went off the right post. The resultant corner, however, caused a melee inside the box and to Bangladesh’s delight, Tariq Raihan Kazi managed to put the ball in.

At the stroke of 90 minutes, Shekh Morsalin found the breakthrough on the counter-attack. The substitute attacker displayed fine skills to beat a Maldives defender and lashed home to make it 3-1 and put the game to bed.

While Lebanon only need a draw against Maldives to secure their spot in the semi-finals, Bangladesh will need to win against Bhutan to ensure that they finish in second position. Both matches will be played on Wednesday, June 28.