Sports

Nepal through to semis as group winners

- HIMESH RATNA BAJRACHARYA, DHAKA

Sep 9, 2018-

Nepal advanced into the semi-finals as Group ‘A’ winners of the Saff Championship football tournament following a 2-0 victory over  hosts Bangladesh at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka on Saturday.

Goals in either half from strikers Bimal Gharti Magar and substitute Nawayug Shrestha sealed the victory for Nepal who made entered the semi-finals of the tournament after five years. Yet to lift the championship, it is Nepal’s fifth semi-final entry in the biggest football tournament of the South Asian region. Earlier, Nepal had made it to the last four during the 1995 (Colombo), 1999 (Goa), 2011 (New Delhi) and 2013 (Kathmandu) editions.

Nepal had gone down 2-1 against Pakistan in their opening match on Tuesday and defeated Bhutan 4-0 on Thursday. Bangladesh had defeated Bhutan 2-0 and Pakistan 1-0. In the other match of the group, Pakistan defeated Bhutan 3-0. Nepal’s semi-final opponent will be finalised on Sunday – one among India or Maldives — after the two teams play in their last group match.

Saturday’s outcome meant Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan finished with six points each in the group and Bhutan crashed out without registering a point in the table. Nepal topped the table on the basis of number of goals scored between the teams concerned having scored three goals followed by two goals of Pakistan. Bangladesh had only one goal to their name in terms of the team concerned.  

Nepal and Bangladesh went into the final group match with both in a contrasting circumstances. While it was a must-win situation for Nepal, a draw would have been sufficient for Bangladesh. It was Bimal Gharti Magar who made the breakthrough in the 33rd minute through a freekick. Bangladeshi goalie Md Sahidul Alam fumbled Bimal’s free kick allowing the Nepali striker to net his eighth international goal. The 20-year old is now five goals sigh of all time highest goal scorer from Nepal to match the record held by former skipper Hari Khadka.

“More than the personal achievement, it is the entry into the semi-finals that carries more significance for me. But I am still happy with my individual performance,” said Gharti Magar, a product of ANFA Academy. “We are inching closer to trophy and everyone in the team is gaining confidence.”

Though Bangladesh dominated the ball possession before Nepal struck, the hosts were under intense pressure to equalise and resorted to an all-attack game  but ultimately ended up losing the tempo of the game. A stubborn Nepali defense line up kept Bangladeshi attacks on bay in a match where both sides failed to make other remarkable attacks.

Forward Bharat Khawas, the stand-in-skipper for Biraj Maharjan who was rested for the match, tested Bangladeshi goalie Alam in the 54th minute. Khawas forced the custodian for a diving save and Sunil Bal shot wayward in the rebounder after being set by Rohit Chand. Bangladesh’s only remarkable move of the match came in the 70th minute when Hossain Roney headed above the bar from the area.

Nawayug came as replacement for Khawas in the 66th minute and ensured victory with a perfect finish in the 90th minute. He converted Bishal Rai’s through pass with a cool finish sending the ball beyond goalie after his shot got a deflection off the upright.

Nepal’s coach Kiran Shrestha, the deputy to head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan, believed the first goal was the turning point of the match. “We played as per the match plan and the first goal turned the game towards us,” said Shrestha.

Published: 09-09-2018 09:01

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