Four-time champions Sri Lanka thumped newcomers Afghanistan by 129 runs to reach the final of the Asia Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday.
The Islanders scored a challenging 253-6 with in-form Kumar Sangakkara hitting a solid 76, before they bowled their rivals out for a paltry 124 in 38.4 overs.
Sri Lanka won all their three matches to gain 12 points, leaving them to play a meaningless last game against hosts Bangladesh on Thursday before having a tilt at the title.
Afghanistan, who gave a good account of themselves by beating Bangladesh by 32 runs in their second match, found Sri Lanka’s attack too hot to handle and only captain Mohammad Nabi (37), Asghar Stanikzai (27) and Noor Ali Zadran (21) were among the runs.
Nabi hit a six and three fours off 43 balls before he fell leg before wicket to spinner Chaturanga de Silva in the 33rd over.
Mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis took three for 11 in his seven overs, while Thisara Perera chipped in with three for 29 in his full quota of 10 overs.
Paceman Suranga Lakmal had two for 30 and left-armer de Silva fetched two for 29 to complete the rout.
Only Nabi and Najibullah Zadran (11) could stay longer to put 48 runs for the sixth wicket, before Afghanistan lost their last five wickets for a mere three runs.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said it was nice to qualify for the final.
“It was a very important game for us because we had to book our place in the final,”Mathews said. “Afghanistan have a very good bowling attack and our batsmen found it hard on a slow pitch.”
Nabi admitted his team was short on quality.
“We bowled well in the first 35 overs and Sangakkara played very well,” Nabi said. “We started well with the bat, but then Mendis and Malinga bowled brilliantly.”
Earlier, Sangakkara hit six fours and a six off 102 balls to hold the innings together when the batsmen faltered after Mathews won the toss and decided to bat.
Sangakkara came to the crease after opener Lahiru Thirimanne had gone for 5 in the sixth over, bowled by paceman Shapoor Zadran.
Fellow opener Kusal Perera scored a 49-ball 33 with four boundaries and a six, while Mahela Jayawardene made 14. But both fell to medium pacer Mirwais Ashraf, who finished with two for 29 in eight overs, to leave Sri Lanka struggling on 83-3.
Sangakkara, fresh from a match-winning century against India, added 74 for the fourth wicket with Dinesh Chandimal (26) to put his team on firmer ground.
Sangakkara was run out in the 38th over with Sri Lanka on 158-5, as Afghanistan — buoyed by their upset win over Bangladesh — kept the pressure on, but Mathews provided a late flurry with an unbeaten 45 off 41 balls, adding an unbeaten 69 with Thisara Perera (19 not out) to get his team past the 250 mark.
Afghanistan had brought back Noor Ali and Dawlat Zadran for Karim Sadiq and Hamid Hassan from the lineup which upset Bangladesh on Saturday, but they failed to maintain the momentum.
Pakistan were due to meet hosts Bangladesh yesterday needing a win to meet Sri Lanka in Saturday’s final. Defending champions Pakistan have won two of their three matches, beating Afghanistan and India, and going down to Sri Lanka.