Nepal hammered Sri Lanka 4-0 to set up the fifth SAFF Women’s Championship title clash with India at the Shahid Stadium in Biratnagar on Wednesday.
Defender Punam Jargha Magar opened the scoring late in the first half before Anita Basnet, Sabitra Bhandari and Rekha Poudel scored in the last 20 minutes to seal a comprehensive win in the semi-finals. It was the sixth victory over the opponents for Nepal, who also maintained their clean sheet in the third match of the tournament. Nepal will take on four-time champions India, who beat Bangladesh 4-0 in another semi-final clash, on Friday.
Nepal were in total control of the game and tormenting their opponents with their sleek passes and consistent penetration into the area. But Sri Lanka played to the strength of their hosts by tightening their defence which prevented Nepal from scoring a goal until just before the break. Nepal threatened early in the 10th minute when skipper Niru Thapa’s powerful header in Anu Basnet corner sailed above the bar. Six minutes later striker Bhandari was denied by Sri Lankan goalkeeper AM Ayomi S Wijerathna.
Gita Rana’s header in the 36th from the crowded zone following a Manjali Kumari Yonjan corner was well saved by Sri Lankan custodian Wijerathna. Sri Lanka’s first and the only real chance came in the 37th minute when IL Erandi K Liyange, the lone forward of the team, could not meet a WD Iamasha Stephni Dias pass with just Nepal goalkeeper Anjila Tumbapo Subba on her way.
Nepal’s persistence finally paid off three minutes before interval as Jargha Magar side-footed the ball into the net. Jargha Magar was left unmarked as the far post after Gita Rana curled in a freekick inside the area where Bhandari’s mistimed header fell nicely for the Nepali defender to score the first goal for the home team. It was the defender’s first goal for her country. “We were unable to break through their defence in the first half except for the last goal,” Nepal coach Hari Khadka said. “We were charging through the centre of the field in the first half. We changed our strategy in the second half and made our moves from the wings. The ploy worked and we were able to score three more goals,” said Khadka.
Nepal kept pressing for more goals even after the break and Bhandari came close to adding to her team’s tally in the 53rd minute when her header sailed just above the bar following a Manjali Kumari Yonjan cross. Sri Lanka custodian Wijerathne then acrobatically denied Basnet’s powerful shot on the hour mark. Wijerathne was called into action yet again a minute later denying a powerful Bhandari header.
Nepal’s quest for second goal finally materialised in the 73rd minute as Basnet slammed home a pass from midfielder Dipa Rai. It was the second goal for in-form winger Basnet in her 23rd international match. Wijerathne also denied Anita Basnet’s low drive from zone in the 81st minute. But the Sri Lankan custodian was helpless five minutes later as Bhandari headed in a Anita Basnet cross from the zone for the 25th international goal. With the goal Bhandari also drew level with Jamuna Gurung in all-time highest scorer list chart for Nepal. Bhandari is now only behind Anu Lama, who has 35 international goals to her credit.
Poudel, who came as replacement of skipper Niru Thapa in the 64th, sealed the comprehensive win scoring the fourth goal in the 86th minute. Making her international debut, Poudel controlled Basnet’s low drive in the area before shooting past the Sri Lankan goalkeeper for her first international goal.
Sri Lanka assistant coach Dammika Atrukorola said the final result did not reflect the competitive nature of the game. “Out players put in a great effort despite the defeat,” he said adding that they conceded three second half goals due to poor mentality. “We were playing defensive game but suddenly our girls dropped their intensity after trailing by a goal,” said Atrukorola adding that India and Nepal were a class apart from the rest of the other opponents in the tournament. (Kathmandu Post)