New Delhi:Defending champions India unleashed an impressive show of attacking football to beat Sri Lanka 3-1 in a thrilling round-robin match and place themselves in a strong position for booking a final berth in the Nehru Cup international tournament on Wednesday.
Captain Bhaichung Bhutia (25th), Gouramangi Singh (69th) and Steven Dias (85th) scored for India while WDRD Warakagoda found the net in the 61st minute for Sri Lanka.
The home team, which produced their best performance of the tournament so far in a free-flowing match today, could have won by a bigger margin had not they wasted the chances galore that came their way.
India, who dominated for most part of the match, now have six points -- from two wins and a loss -- from three matches.
They next play Syria in their last match on August 29. They will be virtually through to the final if Syria beat or draw Lebanon tomorrow.
For most of the match, play remained at the Sri Lankan half and with midfielders NP Pradeep and Climax Lawrence shrugging off their indifferent form, the Indians made constant pressure at the Lankan goal.
Right winger Steven Dias was the livewire of the home team as he essayed several crosses into the Sri Lankan box.
Wing backs Surkumar Singh, who received a yellow card, and Mahesh Gawli also made overlapping runs down the flanks to make life difficult for the Lankans.
As early as the second minute, a fine pass by Climax Lawrence beat the off-side trap but NP Pradeep's attempt to chip over the advancing Lankan goalkeeper failed.
In quick succession, India got a flurry of chances and Sunil Chhetri headed in a free kick taken by Steven Dias in the 13th mniute, but was ruled off-side. A furious India coach Bob Houghton was seen apparently telling the line official that it was a legal goal.
Three minutes later, left back Mahesh Gawli had a free shot from inside the Lankan box after being fed by Chhetri but he shot over in a hurry.
In the 20th minute, Dias' right footer from a close angle off a pass by Surkumar kissed the crossbar. Immediately after that, Bhutia failed to connect properly an Anthony Pereira low cross from the left after a Pradeep initiative.
Bhutia, who was adjudged the man of the match, made amends in the 25th minutes to give India the lead as he connected a Dias cross from the right with a powerful header off a move initiated by Surkumar.
With a perfectly timed jump, the diminutive striker rose over his marker before sending the ball into the Lankan net for his second goal of the tournament as the home crowd who had almost filled the stadium burst into wild celebration.
India started the second half shakily before coming close to doubling the lead in the 50th minute when Bhutia's glancing header off a Surkumar aerial pass beat the Lankan goalkeeper only to be denied by the left upright.
Nine minutes later, Bhutia had another attempt at the Lankan goal but this time his left footer went straight into the goalkeeper.
India paid dearly for their poor defending and conceded the equaliser in the 61st minute when an unmarked WDRD Warakagoda headed home a Raumy Mohideen corner.
Four minutes later, India threatened to take the lead again but Lankan goalkeeper HMA Kumara made a brilliant save jumping up in time near the right top corner of the net to punch away a curling Dias free kick.
Egged on by the vociferous supporters, India went on to the lead from a move started from a set piece in the 69th minute.
Dias' curling free kick was met with a volley by Pradeep which the Lankan goalkeeper blocked but off the rebound defender Gouramangi Singh slammed the ball home.
India were unlucky again in the 77th minute as Pradeep's right footer beat a diving goalkeeper but hit the right post and came back to play.
India, however, took the game out of Sri Lanka's reach in the 85th minute when Dias fired in a right-footer from an acute angle after he was nicely set up by Pradeep.