The Tamil Eelam football team managed to net their first goals of the 2014 World Football Cup tournament, but succumbed to a 4-2 defeat to hosts Sápmi.
A minute of silence was held before the match, in remembrance of the death of Pon Sivakumaran 40 years ago, while he was detained by Sri Lankan security sources.
Taking on the host nation in a placement match this morning, the Leopards came in searching for their first goal of the tournament. The highly rated Sápmi team, which has the distinction of having had former Norwegian internationals play on their squad , were clear favourites and were always going to be tough to score against.
Tamil Eelam though, were unperturbed and started brightly against the more experienced and older side. Whilst the Sápmi strikers kept pressure in the Eelam half, with an early strike bouncing off the crossbar, the defence stood strong with a series of crucial interceptions.
Playing with increased confidence and greater fluency, the Leopards managed to create a handful of their own chances, with Gvinthan Navaneethakrishnan breaking free from the Sápmi defence, forcing a save from the keeper. The ball did hit the back of the Sápmi net soon after, but Menan Nagulendran was caught narrowly offside, and the goal ruled out, leaving both sides goalless at the end of the first half.
As the players kicked off the second half, Tamil Eelam came out strong and looking to attack. The breakthrough finally came with a wonderful piece of play, as 22-year-old French striker Ragavan Prasanth latched on to a rebounded shot, heading it into the back of the net. With that goal came Tamil Eelam's first of the tournament, sending them into an early lead against the favourites.
However, the lead did not last long, with Dreyer striking twice in quick succession and putting Sápmi ahead.
The Eelam team though, was not disheartened. Keeping the pressure on the Sápmi defence, the leopard's movement split them in half, with Prashanth providing the breakthrough again, brilliantly slotting the ball past the keeper.
With the scores level on 2-2 the pressure was on, and the Sápmi attack was relentless. As more and more shots were targeted at the goal, they finally managed to force the Tamil Eelam defence into a mistake, with a cross whipped in headed into the net for an own goal by a Tamil defender.
As the minutes ticked away, Eelam desperately searched for an equaliser, throwing their players forward. Sápmi though, managed to retain possession, and eventually added a fourth to win the match.
The scoreline was harsh on the Leopards, unfairly reflecting what was a heartened and improved performance against an extremely experienced side. Whilst they had scored their first goals of the tournament, the players were extremely disappointed to have lost the match, the captain Gajenthiran Balamurali told the Tamil Guardian.
“Although this was a much improved performance, the previous games have affected our confidence. We made avoidable mistakes, which cost us the game. Every mistake is punished at this high level,” he said after the match.
“We would like to thank our fans for standing by us, despite the disappointing game. We hope we can reward their support with a victory in the next game,” he added.
Tamil Eelam will next play Darfur United on Saturday at 10am CET in their last match of the tournament.