Players of Jhapa XI (blue) and ANA in action during their match of the 15th Aaha-Rara Gold Cup football tournament at Pokhara Stadium in Pokhara, Kaski on Thursday as spectators watch from the jam-packed parapet. (Photo Courtesy: Sudarshan Ranjit)
POKHARA, Jan 20: Inspired by a hat-trick from striker Karna Limbu, Jhapa XI registered a thumping 4-1 win over visiting Association of Nepalese in America (ANA) on Thursday to book a quarterfinal ticket of the 15th Aaha-Rara Gold Cup being held at Pokhara Stadium in Pokhara, Kaski.
Taking control of the match from the onset, the diminutive forward put Jhapa ahead in the 24th minute when he headed Pujan Uparkoti's long pass from the zone. Karna came up with a brilliant effort to double the advantage six minutes later when he dribbled past three defenders and beat the opponent goalie to score.
Buddha Chemjong widened the margin in the 74th minute making the score 3-0. He was again set by Karna for the third goal.
Sisir Bishwakarma, who came as replacement of skipper Pralay Rajbhandari in the 79th minute, cut the deficit five minutes from time for ANA. He dribbled past Afrian defender Peter Segun to score. But it was too late for a comeback and turned out to be only a consolation goal for the visiting side.
Karna completed his hat-trick in the last minute to seal the comprehensive victory. The-man-of-the-match was supplied by Dilen Loktan.
Jhapa will now take on last edition's runner-up Tribhuvan Army Club for a place in the semifinal. Jhapa, participating for the fourth time in the tournament, had crashed out of the semifanal of the last edition with a 4-0 defeat to Manang Marshyangdi Club. It was beaten by Three Star Club in the 13th edition.
ANA, the team comprising of NRNs living in America, faced first round exit in its debut. Besides college students, the team was also studded with professional footballers. Skipper Rajbhandari was the former captain of A Division outfit Three Star. The team was selected from a pool of 60 players.
Both the sides squandered some scoring opportunities in the match. Jhapa could have taken lead as early as in the 14th minute, but Ranjit Shrestha failed to score in a one-versus-one situation. Three minutes later, ANA custodian Allan Neupane made a heroic save to deny Buddha Chemjong's scorcher. Patrick Singh made a goalline clearane to prevent Bishal Rai and Karna was denied by the goalie.
Jhapa coach Sanjay Rai said that his side failed to widen the goal margin after failing to convert chances. "There were some weaknesses in midfield and we will field Yogesh Gurung in the position during the next match," he said.
Rai's counterpart Suraj Thapa lamented that his side could not play to its full potential. "We could play only 70 percent of our potential. The team was not set well as all boys were playing together for the first time. The pitch was also totally new for us and the youth players also lacked match experience," Thapa said adding that his side could come in next edition as well if everything goes well.
ANA President Medani Adhikari said that the participation was not just for the sake of winning medal but also to renew relations and to cut the gap between NRNs and Nepalis. "Though we stay in America, we love our country (Nepal). And we just wanted to exchange the feelings by participating in this tournament," Adhikari said.