SAFF Women's Championship: Nepal stumble yet again in title showdown

- PRAJWAL OLI, Kathmandu

Mar 22, 2019-

Nepal were made to wait for their first ever silverware after losing the SAFF Women's Championship final to India yet again at the Shahid Rangashala in Biratnagar on Friday.

It was the fourth time that Nepal had lost to India in the final of SAFF Championship and the sixth defeat overall in the finals against their South Asian neighbours. Nepali women's team has not won a single title since making foray into international arena in 1986. They have participated in 12 tournaments so far. On the contrary, India lifted the title for the fifth time since its inception of the biennial tournament in 2010. The only time Nepal failed to make it to the final was in 2016 when they lost to none other than India in the semi-finals.

It was the seventh time Nepal have reached the summit clash including including the Hero Gold Cup last month in Bhubaneswar, India, where they lost 3-1 to Myanmar. The defeat against India was eighth in 11 encounters. Two other matches between Nepal and India have ended in draws. Nepal's only win over India came last month in the Hero Gold Cup. 

Dalima Chhibber gave first half lead to India only for Sabitra Bhandari to level the scores shortly afterwards. Midfielder Grace Dangmei and forward Anju Tamang netted after the break to seal victory for India. Inability to utilise scoring chances in the first half and below par performance in the second half was to be blame for the home team's defeat. "We failed to convert chances in the first half while also slumping in the second half," Nepal coach Hari Khadka said. "As a coach I take all the blame for the defeat and apologise to disappoint the home fans."

The entertaining match saw both the teams play offensive game. India made the first move in the 12th minute when forward Sandhiya Ranganathan's tap in from a tight angle hit the upright. Manjali Kumari Yonjan responded for Nepal a minute later as her left-flank was denied by Indian goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan. Nepal goalkeeper Anjila Tumbapo Subba then made a brillaint save in the 16th minute to deny Indian winger Sanju. 

Bhandari came close to provide the hosts the 19th minute lead as she shot off target in a Niru Thapa pass. India broke the deadlock with a stunning freekick in the 26th minute as defender Chhibber’s 35-yard freekick entered the top left of the post leaving Nepal goalkeeper no chance. It didn't take long before Nepal equalised as Bhandari headed in a long pass from Punam Jargha Magar in the 33rd. It was the 26th interntional goal for Bhandari, only nine shy of all-time highest score Anu Lama. 

 [Post Photo: Bedraj Poudel]

India gave home team another scare in the 40th minute when Dangmei failed to connect a perfect Sanju cross inside the six-yard area. Bhandari then squandered a golden chance in the first half injury time as her two successive attempts were foiled by custodian Aditi Chauhan. The Indian shot-stopper blocked her first shot from close range before exhibiting her great reflexes by picking herself up to stop the Nepal striker yet again in the second attempt. 

Nepal failed to muster any significant chances in the second half. India restored one-goal cushion in the 63rd courtesy to poor defending of centre-back Gita Rana. Sandhiya Ranganathan dispossessed the ball from Rana near the centre field and set it for Dangmei who beat Nepal’s advancing goalie Subba in one-on-one situation. "The match slipped from our grasp after conceding the second goal due to a silly mistake. It was evenly contested match but what matter in the end is goals, and that's where we failed," said Khadka who lauded his players for their hard work.  Khadka said Nepal need to learn more and play matches with better opponents to improve themselves. 

Indian substitute Anju Tamang sealed victory convering from a powerful shot in the 78th minute. India coach Mayamol Nedugadang Rocky said her team deserved the victory. "We are the deserved winners and happy to have lifted the tile yet again. We were wary of the home crowd but that didn't break their resolve. They are the future of Indian women's football," said Rocky. Nepal forward Bhandari and India’s Kathirsean ended up as the joint top scorer with four goals each. Defender Chhiber was named the most-valuable-player. 

Published: 22-03-2019 21:25

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