By Susil Premalal
Anura De Silva, (President) and Jaswar Umar, (Secretary) of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) say that with the South Asian Games (SAG) as the target, national pools of both men and women have begun training for the Kathmandu competition 2019.
Football at the SAG is an event for U-23 players. The Senior National Men’s coach Rumy Packeerally is handling the U-23 team as well while the women’s team is trained by national coach Tilak Alphonso. After an island wide talent search, 80 players were selected from over 200 aspirants for the men’s U-23 national pool.
The women’s national U-23 pool comprises 29 players. The men’s team is training at Baddegana Football Complex in Kotte while the women’s pool is training at the Sugathadasa Stadium and Torrington grounds.
The women’s pool underwent a training programme in Bahrain last December and played three friendly matches to gain experience.
In addition to the Kathmandu Games, the women’s team will be participating in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) women’s football tournament.
They will be gaining more international exposure and experience as a result. The men’s national team participated in the SAFF men’s football championships held in Bangladesh last year. They gave a much improved performance than in previous years and missed the chance of qualifying to the semifinals by a whisker.
The core of the senior national men’s team is aged U-23 and form the nucleus of the side for SAG. The national men’s team comprises a fine blend of experienced and young players which bodes well for the future. The men’s U-23 side will be taking part in the AFC U-23 championships and World Cup qualifiers this year ahead of SAG. Prior to that the Sri Lanka team participated in two international football matches against Laos in Laos last month where they lost the first game 2-1 and the next game ended in a two all draw. After that in the World Cup qualification round in Macau, Sri Lanka lost the first match 1-0. The second leg was to be played in Colombo on June 11 at the Sugathadasa Stadium but due to the security reason in Colombo, the match was called off by AFC.
The AFC is set to reschedule but a date has not been received as yet.
Several other matches are also scheduled in the future in preparation for the SAG.
The Federation hopes to trim the national U-23 pool to 30 thereafter before the final squad will be chosen. Packeerally says Sri Lanka is targeting the gold medal at the SAG though India is the main contender.