Captain Hassan Maatouk’s 24th minute strike steered Lebanon to a 1-0 victory over the Maldives in a Group B match of the 2023 SAFF Championship at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday. Bangladesh beat Bhutan 3-1 to finish second in Group and qualify for the semi-finals along with Lebanon.

Table toppers Lebanon will face hosts India, who they also faced in the final of the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneshwar earlier this month. Bangladesh set up a semi-final clash with Kuwait with both matches to be played on Saturday, July 1.

Lebanon beat Maldives

Since Lebanon had already ensured a place in the semi-finals, it prompted their head coach Aleksandar Ilic to rest a few of his regular players, including Karim Darwich.

Lebanon started the match on a positive note, keeping plenty of possession and trying to stretch the Maldives defence.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 24th minute when Lebanon was awarded a free kick a few metres outside the penalty box. Skipper, Hassan Maatouk stepped up to curl in a right-footed shot past Maldives custodian Hussain Shareef. Hussain was left wrong-footed after Hassan’s shot took a deflection and went in.

Moments after the first goal, Lebanon squandered a golden opportunity to extend their lead when Mohamad Sadek missed from a close range. He shot well over the crossbar following Zein Al Abidine Farran’s brilliant pass from the right.

Lebanon tried to extend their lead in the second half and had it not been for Hussain Shareef under the bar, the Maldives would have conceded a few more goals. He saved two brilliant attempts from Ali Al Haj in the second half to keep the Maldives in the game.

The Maldives, world no 154 in the FIFA rankings finished their SAFF Championship campaign with only one win in three matches.

Bangladesh qualify for the semi-finals

It was an evenly matched contest with both sides looking for goal scoring opportunities. Bhutan opened the scoring in the 12th minute, thanks to Tsenda Dorji’s wonderful strike from outside the box. Dorji saw the perfect opportunity to shoot, beating Bangladesh goalkeeper Anisur Rahman from a distance.

The goal lifted Bhutan’s spirits as they continued to press forward. Nima Wangdi almost doubled their lead in the 17th minute when he dribbled past two Bangladesh defenders and went for a strike from a distance. His towering shot, unfortunately for Bhutan, could only rattle the crossbar.

On the other end, Bangladesh didn’t let their intensity levels go down and kept pushing for the equaliser. They equalised in the 21st minute when Shekh Morsalin struck powerfully with his left foot to beat Bhutan goalkeeper Gyeltshen Zangpo from the edge of the box.

Bangladesh went on to take the lead 10 minutes later. Rakib Hossain attempted to pass Morsalin’s cross inside the box, but the ball deflected off defender Phuntsho Jigme and landed straight into his own goal.

Bangladesh’s confidence shot up after taking the lead as they dominated the game and produced waves of attacks. In the 36th minute, Rakib Hossain displayed individual brilliance to help Bangladesh go up 3-1. The No. 10 went solo from the right side and struck from an acute angle. The ball hit the inside of the far post and nestled into the back of the net.