KATHMANDU, Dec 7: A stunning header from center back Ananta Tamang all but secured a final place for Nepal with a 2-1 comeback win over the Maldives, but will have to wait until Sunday to see its fate decided when it takes on Bangladesh in the men’s football competition at the 13th South Asian Games (SAG).
Nepal has seven points from three games with the best goal difference out of the five participating teams with +5, with Bhutan chasing the leader on six points, but has an inferior goal difference of -2. Likewise, Bangladesh, after three games, has four points and will be looking to cause a shock against the host.
The other two teams Sri Lanka and the Maldives are out of the contention for the final, which will be held on December 10.
Nepal nearly got behind in just the second minute of the match when Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain gave a clever free-kick pass to Hamza Mohamed. Mohamed hit a shot, but a superb sliding block by midfielder-turned center back Bikram Lama swept away the danger.
Early on, Nepal found it difficult to catch the rhythm of the game failing to play along with the pace of a fast Maldivian attack, but a good defensive display saw it clear the threats.
Nepal finally got a chance in the 11th minute as Sujal Shrestha was through with just a defender and the keeper to beat, which he did, but could not beat the crossbar as Nepal was left ruing the miss.
The two-man midfield for Nepal was totally non-functional in attack as Tej Tamang and Mikchhen Tamang were unable to create the balls for the forwards, but did well in getting the ball back.
But, it was the Maldives who scored as Hussain was free in the point blank range as he just had to tap-in the ball after a throw-in, in the 19th minute.
Abhishek Rijal performed quite well in the first half with crosses time and again, but his communication with the forwards in the box was not much accurate. He crossed the ball looking for Rejin Subba in the 21st minute, but the under-performing forward headed the ball to the outside of the crossbar.
Ananta had a big chance to equalize the score in the 28th minute as his header was missed by the keeper, but a defender cleared the ball from the goalline to frustrate the Nepali players.
The Maldives had other chances as well, but the most notable one came in the 29th minute when the goalscorer was clean through, but his grass shot was saved by Bikesh Kuthu.
It was all Nepal after that as Rijal dribbled past three players at once and passed the ball to Sujal Shrestha. Shrestha then threaded the ball to Sunil Bal, who banged the ball over the crossbar in the 41st minute.
The equalizer finally came for Nepal as Ananta produced a fascinating long ball looking for Rijal after two Maldivian defenders failed to judge the ball. Rijal did not think twice and hit a half volley from the edge of the box in the 41st minute.
The change of position of wingers Rijal and Bal was the reason the game became swift for Nepal as the goal was scored a few minutes after that tactics.
Nepal showcased a dismal performance in the second half failing to add on to its tally despite creating a few chances, with the Maldives looking for counter attacks.
The away side would even have punished the host as Hussain dribbled past the Nepali defenders, but his shot went agonizingly wide in the 53rd minute.
Ananta finally gave Nepal the lead as a strong header from the young defender in the 70th minute made all the difference.
The difference saw the Maldives get knocked out of the competition and its coach Peter Segrt getting sacked.