Members of Indian national women’s football team pose with the trophy as they celebrate after defeating Nepal in the final of the SAFF Women’s Championship at the Shahid Stadium in Biratnagar on Friday. (Right) Nepal’s Sabitra Bhandari and Indumathi Kathiresan pose with the highest goal scorer trophy. Photo: Chuman Basnet
BIRATNAGAR, March 23: Nepal national women’s football team has lost its fourth final to India in the total five editions played since 2010 as the defending champion claimed its fifth title with a 3-1 win in the SAFF Women’s Championship in Biratnagar on Friday.
At the Shahid Stadium, the Nepal team kept the rival on pressure and even equalized in the first half. But two goals from India in the second half were enough to shatter Nepal’s title hopes.
India had defeated Nepal in the final of the first three editions of the tournament, and Nepal lost to the same team in the semifinals in the fourth edition.
A well-balanced performance from India sealed the fifth consecutive title for the team despite tough challenge by Nepal side.
Nepal played brilliantly in the first half at Shahid Stadium packed with 14,000 spectators but could not give continuity to its first half performance in the second and eventually conceded two goals.
To give India fifth consecutive title, Dalima Chibber, Grace Dangwei and Anju Tamang scored for the Indian side, cutting out an equalizer from Sabitra Bhandari.
Bhandari, who was dubbed as best South Asian footballer by Bangladeshi coach earlier in the tournament, became the first and the only player to score a goal against India. None of the Nepal and India teams had conceded any goal earlier in the entire edition.
Bhandari joined India’s Indumathi Kathiresan to score the highest goals in the tournament with four each. With the goal, she has placed her name in the list of highest goal scorer Nepali woman footballers in the international level with 26 goals. She beat Jamuna Gurung, who has 25 goals, while only Anu Lama is ahead of her with 35 goals.
Despite playing with high confidence after a good run of form leading to the final and with good results against India in the last two matches prior to the final, Nepal conceded a goal in the match in the first half an hour. Bhandari gave Nepal a chance to build from the equalizer, but the second half performance was simply not enough.
Nepal had created a chance in the seventh minute of the match pressurizing the Indian team. Bhandari and Deepa Rai both got chances from a corner hit by Anita Basnet, but could not score.
Creating one chance after another, Nepal built its confidence to score. Bhandari passed the ball to Manjali Kumari Yonjan in the 13th minute, but her shot went just over the bar. Six minutes later, captain Niru Thapa passed the ball to Bhandari, and she dribbled the ball beating defenders, but her shot from inside the box went wide.
India hit Nepal on counter in the 16th minute, but Sanju’s shot from outside the box was brilliantly saved by Nepal goalkeeper Anjila Tumbaope.
Bhandari got another chance to score in the 23rd minute after getting a pass from Basnet, but again failed to score.
Despite being constantly pressurized in the game, India took the lead in the 26th minute as Chhiber scored from a free-kick. Nepal defender Hira Kumari Bhujel fouled an India player and a free-kick from Chhiber from 35 yards out went inside the post.
But, Nepal pulled the game back in track as defender Punam Jargha Magar provided a long ball to Bhandari, defying the marking of three players, jumped to score a header to level the match.
Trying to score another goal inside the first half was almost possible for Nepal, but Bhandari missed a good chance in the first half injury time. But, the first period ended 1-1 with everything to play for in the second half.
India showed an improved performance in the second half and kept Nepal under consistent pressure. Nepal could not handle India’s counter attack because of its wingers.
Even though Bhujel cleared a shot of Dangmei in the 60th minute, but conceded a goal three minutes later. Sandhiya Ranganathan passed the ball to Dangmei and she stunned the Nepali crowd in the 63rd minute.
Substitute Tamang scored a goal 12 minutes from the time and ended Nepal’s title winning hopes. After the third goal went in, Nepal was hopeless. Bhandari had a chance to reduce the deficit in the 82nd minute, but missed again.
Nepal played attacking football nearly at the end of the game, but India’s defense broke all Nepali attacks.
India coach Maymol Rocky said that the team comprising young players played brilliantly to win the fifth SAFF.
“We deserved to win the title. We were successful to win the match as my young players played brilliantly to defeat Nepal in a competitive match,’’ said Rocky.
“I am very happy. The team has most of the young players and this will be the permanent Indian team from now on.’’
Nepal head coach Hari Khadka said that the second goal from India was the turning point in the match.
“The players played well against India, but conceding the second goal became the turning point in the match. Had we not conceded that goal, the result would have been quite different,’’ Khadka said, “The good results in the recent times helped the Nepali team grow confidence. If the team gets to play enough tournaments in the coming days, Nepal will be strong because many players have shown the potential to do very well.’’
Bhandari and Kathiresan finished as the highest goal scorers in the tournament with four goals each. Likewise, Chibber was named the best player in the final.