Nepal’s Rekha Paudel (right) dribbles the ball during a SAFF Women’s Championship semifinal football match against Sri Lanka at the Shahid Stadium in Biratnagar on Wednesday. Photo: Chuman Basnet
BIRATNAGAR, March 21: Nepal national women’s football team is set to face India in the final of the SAFF Women’s Championship for the fourth time in the total five editions of this championship held so far as Nepal defeated Sri Lanka and the four-time champion India saw off Bangladesh on Wednesday to reach the SAFF final to be held on Friday in Biratnagar.
In the first semifinal match played at the Shahid Stadium, the host Nepal comfortably defeated Sri Lanka 4-0 on Wednesday and India beat Bangladesh with the same scoreline in the second game played later on the day.
India has won all four editions so far, while Nepal is set to play in its fourth final having lost three finals to India.
Nepal, winning all its games in the group stages and not conceding a goal, started attacking from the initial stage. Anita Basnet tried her luck in just the fourth minute of the match, while Basnet dribbled the ball from the middle area of the pitch, and passed the ball to captain Niru Thapa in the ninth minute, but her shot could not find the target.
Just a minute later, Basnet hit a corner, but the header from captain Thapa grazed over the bar.
Despite trying to create some chances against an attacking Nepali side, Sri Lanka could not destabilize the Nepali defense.
Nepali forward Sabitra Bhandari got a chance to score in the 13th minute after Manjali Kumari gave her a pass, but Bhandari’s shot from inside the penalty box was blocked by the Sri Lankan defense.
The Nepali side that was attacking from the counters wasted a good chance in the 16th minute as Anita KC passed the ball to Bhandari, but her shot from inside the box was safely caught by Sri Lanka keeper Ayomi Bijerathan. Bhandari headed a ball from a Dipa Rai pass, but the shot was off target in the 22nd minute.
A strong Sri Lankan defense up to the point did not let Nepal succeed the plan to take a lead in the first half. Sri Lanka cleared some good chances from the Nepali side.
But, Nepal took the lead before the break. Geeta Rana Magar hit a free-kick, and Niru Thapa provided with a bicycle kick pass to Bhandari, but she could not head the ball properly and just touched it slightly. An unmarked Punam Jargha Magar hit a tap-in and scored Nepal’s first of the game. That was Magar’s first international goal for Nepal.
Sri Lanka, who looked hopeless against India, prioritized to make its defense stronger in the second half against Nepal. Nepal was deploying the counter attack tactics, and Bhandari could not guide the ball toward the post after receiving a pass from Basnet.
It took Nepal 28 minutes in the second half to double its lead. Basnet scored for Nepal to make it 2-0 as Manmaya Limbu put the ball inside the box and she scored in the 73rd minute.
After taking a 2-0 lead, Nepal was flying with high confidence and kept on prioritizing the counter and scored its third in a gap of eight minutes.
To score Nepal’s third, Bhandari headed in to take the result beyond all doubt. With the goal, Bhandari has now scored three goals in the tournament so far. Only India’s Indumathi Kathiresan has more (4).
Rekha Paudel wrapped up the stunning victory after coming in the match in the second half for captain Thapa. Basnet gave a pass to Paudel, and she scored her first international goal for the country in the 86th minute.
Nepal head coach Hari Khadka said that the win was possible because of the hard work from the players.
“We could not score more goals with the first half tactics, so we changed it a bit. All the players worked hard for the win,” Khadka said. “In the first half, we hit Sri Lanka on the counter from the midfield. We had set a tactics to score from both the flanks, but we could not succeed in the first half.’’
Sri Lanka head coach Golam Robbani said that his team tried to fatigue the Nepali players with defensive tactics in the second half and that he was satisfied with the team’s performance despite the loss.
“After conceding five against India, we had set the tactics to play defensively against Nepal. That tactics worked in the first half, but could not work in the second,’’ Robbani added. “Sri Lanka’s actual standard has been shown in the tournament organized by Nepal. Only after the final we will know which team is stronger.’’
In the other semifinal match, India cruised to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Bangladesh as well taking its tournament goals tally to 15 goals in three matches. Nepal has scored 10 goals so far. India and Nepal have scored 25 goals together out of the total 29 scored in the tournament.
Dalima Chhibber opened the scoring for India in the 18th minute, while Kathiresan scored her brace in the 22nd and 37th minutes of the game. Manisha Panna completed the route in the third minute of the injury time. The final will be played on Friday.