Sports

Nepal set for Sri Lanka test in semi-finals

- PRAJWAL OLI, Biratnagar

Mar 20, 2019-

Nepal are set to adopt an offensive approach against Sri Lanka in the semi-finals of SAFF Women’s Championship on Wednesday as the hosts chase their maiden international trophy at the Shahid Rangashala in Biratnagar.

“We are confident and ready for the match,” said Nepal coach Hari Khadka. Nepal have won all five previous matches against Sri Lanka scoring altogether 19 goals at an average of 3.8 goals per match. Remarkably Nepal are yet to concede a goal against the Islanders making the hosts a clear favourites.

The last of the five encounters was a close call for Nepal as they won 1-0 courtesy an own goal during the group stage of the 2016 SAFF Championship. However, the-then coach Kumar Thapa had fielded seven second-choice players in the match after winning their previous two games against Bhutan (8-0) and Maldives (9-0) emphatically.

On the way to semi-finals in Biratnagar, Nepal defeated Bhutan and Bangladesh with identical 3-0 scorelines to top their pool. In contrast, Sri Lanka scraped through to the semi-finals finishing runners-up to India in Group ‘B’ with 2-0 win over Maldives and 5-0 loss to four-time champions India. “The drubbing at the hands of India had exposed their (Sri Lanka) weaknesses. But we are not taking them lightly and play our hearts out to secure our passage to the final,” said Khadka.

Sri Lankan coach Rohan Thilak Alponsu hinted at taking defensive approach against the hosts. “Our priority would be to prevent Nepal scoring goals and extend the match to tiebreaker,” said Alponsu who lamented on the current squad’s lack of enough international exposure leading up to this tournament. “We did not play any tournament since the 2016 SAFF Championship and only assembled in the four months for training,” said Alponsu.

Alponsu was also wary of the threat posed by Nepali strikers Sabitra Bhandari and skipper Niru Thapa. “The No 9 (Bhandari) and No 14 (Thapa) are outstanding forwards. Combined with the No 7 (Renuka Nagarkote) and No 12 (Gita Rana) in midfield Nepal make up a formidable opponents,” said Aplonsu who also admired the pace and ball control of the home team.

Nepal coach Khadka is expecting Sri Lanka to tighten their defence, saying: “They are likely to come up with defensive game and look out for opportunities to score in counter attack. But we have succeeded in breaking the strong defence in the past games and hopefully we can do it again on Wednesday,” said Khadka.

Nepal’s chances of victory also hinges on their ability to keep Sri Lanka forward Chalani Kumari Ekanayake in check. Ekanayake was the ones to score both the goals for the Islands nation in the 2-0 win against Maldives that ensure their passage to the last four. Khadka will likely retain the squad that beat Bangladesh 3-0 in their last pool game on Saturday. Hira Kumari Bhujel, Gita Rana, Punam Jhargha Magar and Manamaya Limbu is likely to take charge of defence. Manjali Yonjan, who netted a goal each in last two matches, will be deployed on the left wing and Anita Basnet on the right wing. Nagarkote and Dipa Rai are expected to be deployed in the midfield.

Nepal captain Thapa said: “Sri Lanka have improved a lot as a team lately. But we consider ourselves a class higher than Sri Lanka in terms of quality. Still we need to come up with our best to earn a ticket to the final,” said Thapa. The second semi-final of the day pits Bangladesh against India at the same venue.

Players to watch

 

Sabitra Bhandari (Nepal)

The 23-year-old is known for her dribbling, speed and strength. She is known for pouncing on the scoring opportunities. Not just her coach Hari Khadka but the striker has also earned an admirer in Bangladesh coach Golam Robbani Choton, who rated her as the best striker of the South Asian region. Bhandari is also the highest scorer of the current national team with 24 goals in her credit. She is behind Anu Lama (35) and Jamuna Gurung (25) in the list of all time highest scorer of the country. She has scored a goal each against Bhutan and Bangladesh and was the highest scorer in the fourth SAFF Championship with 12 goals.

Chalani Kumari Ekanayake (Sri Lanka)

Ekanayake is the star striker of the Sri Lankan team. Her brace against Maldives ultimately ensured Sri Lanka’s passage to the semi-finals. Sri Lanka were soundly beaten 5-0 by India in the second group match but they had already booked a place in the last four even before the drubbing as Maldives lost to India as well. The pacey and physically strong forward poses as the main threat to the Nepali defenders.

Published: 20-03-2019 09:14

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