KATHMANDU, Feb 17: It was a battle of grit when the departmental team Tribhuvan Army Club and Machhindra Club faced in the title showdown Saturday in their bid to win their first Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League title.
Machhindra left no stones unturned to lift the title beating Army by a slender 1-0 score, but the strength of character from its star players helped to outmaneuver and outclass a consistent Army side.
Army, who had been in fine form and had not lost a single match after its second round loss to outgoing champion Manang Marshyangdi Club, was totally outclassed by the pacy wingers and strong defense of Machhindra.
Machhindra had a definitive plan since the start of the season as the confidence was pouring out in each and every league match it played courtesy of the big name signings it had made in the pre-season.
Here are five things we learned from this season's A- Division League:
In a pre-season shock, Machhindra bought the majority of the star players from Nepal’s two big teams Manang and Three Star. The club's signings valued both the mixture of experience and youth.
Spending big money on the finest Nepali players, it focused on experience in 13th South Asian Games (SAG) gold medal winning captain Sujal Shrestha along with other former Manang players Bishal Rai, goalkeeper Bishal Shrestha, Biraj Maharjan, Heman Gurung, Dipak Rai and Adelaja Somide.
Coach Prabesh Katuwal led his side to the first title win, racking up 10 wins and two draws. Machhindra scored the highest (35) goals in the league, and was just one short of Army to be the least conceding team.
Machhindra signed other players such as Devendra Tamang, Abhishek Rijal, Peter Segun, Bijay Dhimal and Budda Chemjong, with the majority being from Three Star to boost its bid for the title.
Somide and Bishal Rai scored the most goals for the team with four each, but the defensive performance of Peter Segun, Ranjit Dhimal, Devendra Tamang along with goalkeeper Bishal stood out as the team kept on seven cleansheets.
It was a surprise, yet an expected fall of two of the Nepali football giants Manang and Three Star.
Before winning the first three matches on the trot against Armed Police Force (APF) Club and Army along with Brigade Boys Club and not conceding a single goal in the period, Manang looked inconsistent moving forward.
From the fourth round to the seventh, it could not register a single win and draws against Friends Club and Himalayan Sherpa Club which hampered its title defense bid. It then lost to Chyasal Youth Club, which was the team’s first loss in two league seasons.
Likewise, Three Star, which won the same number of games as Manang (8), had seen its title bid hopes evaporate by a draw and a loss in its first five league games. The season also saw Three Star fail to beat any of the top three teams with a draw against Manang, and 2-0 losses against Army and Machhindra.
Maharjan's third league title
Biraj Maharajan, one of the familiar faces in Nepali football, reached a new height as he became the only Nepali footballer to win three league titles with three different teams.
Maharjan first won the league title with Three Star in 2012-13, then claimed his career’s second with Manang last season. Maharjan's contribution in this season’s league was immense as he went on to win his third league title in a decade.
He is preparing for his retirement from the national team and is set to hang his boots after the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (AFC) in March.
It was a shocking season from one of the departmental teams as APF found itself in the bottom half during the whole season and finished its campaign in the 12th place.
With more than half of its goals coming from the talisman, Aashish Lama, it was totally dependent on his exploits, but fell short most of the time as it lost eight games out of the 13. Drawing three, it only won two matches which came against the 11th-placed Friends Club and the relegated Saraswati Youth Club.
Having finished in the fifth place last season and scoring just three goals fewer than the then champion Manang, it displayed a poor performance all season conceding 21 goals.
Aashish Lama's magic boots
The highest goal scorer of the tournament, Aashish Lama, was one of the highlights of the season as he carried a fragile APF team and scored nine goals for the club and he has also made his way to the squad list of Nepal for the next World Cup qualifiers.
He was selected in the preliminary squad list for Nepal which also features the rising talent award winner Darshan Gurung along with Pujan Uperkoti and Arik Bista.