Sports

Nepal look to end India jinx in title clash

- PRAJWAL OLI, BIRATNAGAR

Mar 22, 2019-

Nepal and India will be fighting for the SAFF Women’s Championship football tournament title for the fourth time in five editions when the two South Asian rivals clash at the Shahid Rangashala in Biratnagar on Friday.

India, who have won all four previous finals since the tournament’s inception in 2010, are the heavy favourites while Nepal are counting on the recent clashes and home advantage to finally end India jinx in the final. Nepal made it to the final in 2010, 2012 and 2014 but lost to India in all three occasions. The only time Nepal failed to enter the final was in 2016 when were sent packing by the same opponent in the semi-finals.

Despite the poor history against India, the home team hope to finally end that losing streak and lift the maiden international silverware. The two teams have clash 10 times previously with India winning seven games while two matches have ended in draws. Only once have Nepal beaten their neighbours and that came in an invitational tournament in February this year during the Hero Gold Cup in Bhubaneswar, India. Before that win, the two sides also settled for a 1-1 draw in the Asian Qualifier for the 2020 Olympics Game held in Myanmar last November.

The two most recent clashes—a 2-1 win in Bhubaneswar and the 1-1 draw in the Qualifier—can give a huge confidence for Nepal going into Friday final. A fact that Nepal have failed to score in four of their five defeats makes India all the more formidable opponent. “We can take huge confidence from the last two clashes against them. The confidence is huge since our win in Bhubaneswar,” said Nepal coach Hari Khadka. But India coach Maymol Nedugadan Rocky said the past results bear no significance. “Its a tournament and the combination of the team is also new unlike the past. We have done well so far and hope to end well,” she said.

“Hopefully tomorrow will be our day as we look to end our losing sequence,” said coach Khadka, the former national team striker, who is counting on the team’s fighting spirit for a historic success. “India are definitely a clash better than us. “To add to our advantage, crowds will be pushing us to excel, said Khadka who is himself looking forward to clinching the title. His India counterpart Rocky was also confident coming out as victors on Friday. “We are confident of defending the title for the fifth time,” said Rocky adding that the team who comes up with better performance will clinch the title.

Irrespective of the claims made by the rival coaches, the final is likely to see tough competition between the two traditional South Asian rivals in women’s football. “It is interesting to see how the final pans out. Both the team have made it to the final winning all their matches convincingly,” said Rocky. Rocky was also counting on her team’s recent exposure against Hong Kong and Indonesia. “We won both the games a few months early and that success has motivated our players to fare even better here,” she added.

Nepal skipper Niru Thapa said: “We have to be at our best to beat them. If only we fulfil the roles assigned by our coach, we can beat them.” India captain Ashalata Devi Loitongbam said they would do everything to maintain their winning run in the tournament. “We have won all four previous editions and look to add the fifth on Friday,” said Loitongbam.

Nepal’s victory will largely depend on their ability to stop in-form striker Indumati Kathiresan, the highest scorer of the tournament with four goals, along with winger Sanju and centre midfielder Sangita Basfore. “We need to neutralise some key Indian players and be sharp up front ourselves to have any chances of winning the title.”

Sabitra Bhandari and skipper Thapa will spearheaded Nepal’s attack while Anita Basnet and Dipa Rai are likely to be deployed as wingers. Manjali Kumari Yonjan and Renuka Nagarkote will play as centre midfielders. Manamaya Limbu, Gita Rana, Hira Kumari Bhujel and Punam Jargha Magar will give strength to the Nepali defence.

Players to watch

Renuka Nagarkote (Nepal)

Renuka Nagarkote is playmaker and influential midfielder. The 24-year-old has 24 caps and captained Nepal in 2016 SAFF Women’s Championship where Nepal crashed out of the semi-finals. She is among few players to play SAFF Championships for four times since 2010. She was excluded from the 2012 edition. She is known for her accuracy and quick passes.

Gita Rana (Nepal)

Gita Rana is one of the most reliable centre-back of the national team. The 23-year-old has won 17 caps for the national team. The hard-working player has the ability to stop even the pacey defender and is smart at taking dead ball and probing long passes. According to Nepal coach Khadka, she will be assigned special role to stop India’s speedy winger Sanju.

Indumathi Kathiresan (India)

The forward-cum-midfielder is the highest scorer of the tournament with four goals to her credit. She is known for her quick judgments and shooting accuracy that enabled he to cement a place in the Indian team since 2014. She was an influential player in India’s title winning run at the 2016 SAFF Championship and 2016 South Asian Games.

Sangita Basfore (India)

The 22-year-old central midfielder is the main architect of Indian attack. She is known for her ability to create spaces and accurate passes. She had scored a goal against Sri Lanka in the group stage of the tournament. She is also smart in supplying long passes and is always a threat for opponents.     

Published: 22-03-2019 09:00

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