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Thiruvananthapuram: Mohamed Rifnas struck deep into second-half stoppage time to give Sri Lanka a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Nepal as the 11th edition of the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship kicked-off in Kerala on Wednesday.

The first half at the Trivandrum International Stadium was a tight affair with both sides enjoying spells of dominance that ultimately failed to translate into genuine threats on the opposition goal.

A change in jersey colour from red to blue for Nepal in the second half did little to change the complexion of the match although the three-time SAFF Championship semi-finalists had the better of the play after the interval, with 17-year-old Bimal Magar, who has had trials with the youth teams of Belgian sides Anderlecht, KRC Genk, and Club Brugge, catching the eye.

However, it was Sri Lanka that would pick up the first three points of the 2015/16 SAFF Championship when, five minutes into time added on, Rifnas punished a mistake from stand-in skipper Biraj Maharjan, who took over the captain’s armband after Nawayug Shrestha replaced skipper Anil Gurung ten minutes into the second half.

The Group A action continues on Friday when Sri Lanka look to build on their opening win as hosts India take their tournament bow, before the three-team group comes to an end two days later with Nepal facing the six-time regional champions, who finished runners-up to Afghanistan at the 2013 SAFF Championship in Kathmandu.

Photo: AFP

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