New Delhi: The strike duo of Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua were on target as India recorded a clinical 3-0 win over Sri Lanka to advance to the semifinal of the SAFF Football Championship here on Wednesday.
Jeje found the net in the 50th minute of the Group A encounter, while Chhetri consolidated the lead in the 69th minute, as the defending champions finished second to set up a last-four clash with Maldives.
The third was an own goal, by Sri Lanka's Bandara Warakagoda, off a corner taken by Clifford Miranda in the added time.
Earlier in the day, Afghanistan had thrashed Bhutan 8-1 to top Group A and set up a semifinal date with Nepal.
Both India and Afghanistan finished on seven points with two wins and a draw each, but the latter topped the group thanks to their better goal difference.
On a high after their 5-0 win over Bhutan, India needed a draw to qualify, and if their approach was anything to go by, it seemed they would be content with a stalemate.
It would be wrong to say that they did not try in the first half as there were sporadic attempts, but India just could not break the deadlock, even as Sri Lanka too could not conjure up the magic required to see them through.
But the home side's body language changed dramatically after the change of ends.
And lady luck, which was missing until then, smiled on the hosts as Jeje's right-footer off a rebound put India ahead.
It was Chhetri who took the first shot, but that rebounded off goalkeeper Sujan Pereira, giving Jeje a chance to have a go at the goal.
Chhetri then got into the thick of things as he headed in a cross from Clifford Miranda, which gave India a 2-0 lead and the Mohun Bagan player his fourth goal of the tournament, second behind Afghanistan's Balal Arezo who pumped in four goals against Bhutan.
Both Chhetri and Jeje could have scored more but for faltering at the last moment.
After the change of ends, Chhetri's powerful right-footer was brilliantly blocked by Pereira and before that, the goalkeeper blocked Jeje's attempt.
Earlier in the first half, neither team was able to maintain possession for a prolonged period, though India held a slight edge at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
Skipper Climax Lawrence's free-kick was parried away by Pereira before Chhetri could get there. Chhetri's header off a Miranda free-kick then found the safe hands of Pereira in the 18th minute of the match.
Sri Lanka's first real attempt at the goal came in the 21st minute but Nadeeka Pushpakumara's attempt was taken care of by India custodian Karanjit Singh.
Sri Lanka tried to attack with Nipuna Bandra, who was allowed a free run, but to India's fortune, he got his shot wrong.
Chhetri's cross from the right gave Syed Rahim Nabi a chance but he wasted a free header. Just before the half time, Jeje's right-footer on the turn hit the horizontal bar.