Nepal score 2-1 comeback win over the MaldivesThe home side exhibit an inspired performance to take second place in the standings on seven points.
Nepal maintained their unbeaten run in the men’s football tournament under the 13th South Asian Games as they came from a goal down to beat the Maldives 2-1 at the Dashrath Stadium on Saturday.
The win puts Nepal second on the five-team round-robin league table with seven points from three matches, only behind Bhutan who have nine points from their four matches. Bhutan secured a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka in the day’s second match.
Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan made one change to the side that drew 1-1 with Sri Lanka, bringing on Sunil Bal in place of Nitin Thapa.
“We played to our strategy and are very close to a gold medal,” Maharjan said after the match. “We were lacking coordination early on, as conceded a goal after a mistake at the back. However, the team started playing with better cohesion and made a strong comeback.”
Recalling Nepal’s 3-0 defeat to the same opponents in the SAFF Championship semi-finals in Dhaka last year, Maharjan added: “We have avenged the defeat against a strong Maldivian side. With a good domestic football structure, league to prime the pump, they have been producing good players. Today’s win boosts our morale ahead of tomorrow’s game against Bangladesh.”
After a slow start, Nepal came close to leading in the 11th minute. But a powerful shot from captain Sujal Shrestha, the tournament's leading scorer with three goals, from inside the box ricocheted off the bar to the disappointment of an elated full house at the stadium.
The visitors, however, silenced the home crowd in the 18th minute just when the Nepali spectators were engaged in a Mexican wave as Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain scored from close range on a Hussain Sifaau Yoosuf assist.
Two minutes later, Nepal went close to scoring, but a Rejin Subba header was parried away by the Maldives custodian before the ball went out of play deflecting off the left pole. It was the second time in the first half that Nepal were denied by the woodwork.
Even as Nepal were pressing hard for an equaliser, the Maldives almost doubled their lead against the run of play in the 31st minute. But Hussain failed to keep his shot low. Hamza Mohamed had another chance from a similar situation three minutes later, but he shot wide with only Nepal 'keeper Bikesh Kuthu to beat.
Nepal then stepped up their attack, creating several opportunities. Their tireless effort brought up an equaliser two minutes from half time. Abhishek Rijal, after taking a pass from the centre in his stride, unleashed a spectacular half volley from the edge of the box to beat a diving Maldivian custodian and send the home crowd into ruptures.
Rijal earned himself a yellow card for taking his shirt off while celebrating his goal.
Ananta Tamang doubled Nepal's lead in the 52nd minute when he met a Sunil Bal corner with a thumping header from close range.
Both Nepal and the Maldives then had several set pieces but neither side could capitalise on their chances as the match ended with a 2-1 win for the hosts.
Following the final whistle, Team Nepal reached the corners of the stadium and had the crowd join them in their Viking clapping. The celebration was made popular by Iceland football team during the Euro 2016 held in France.
The Maldives have bowed out of the tournament without a win. While congratulating Nepal for the win, their head coach Petar Segrt said, “We were ready to show that we could defeat Nepal at home, and we had the early goal. But we wasted several opportunities to extend our lead and failed to put pressure on the hosts. And they utilised their chances.”
“We have no excuse to make, we simply failed to convert the chances we had throughout the tournament. This is youth football, this tournament has been a good platform to develop the young players,” said the Croatian-born German coach.
“I wish Nepal all the very best going ahead in the tournament. Despite the issue of the tight schedule, it has been a good tournament.”
As Bhutan have booked their ticket to the final with a victory over Sri Lanka, Nepal’s last league match against Bangladesh will be crucial. The hosts currently occupy the second place in the standings, but a loss to Bangladesh could prove costly as a team with a better head-to-head record will progress to the final. A win for Bangladesh will put them level on seven points with Nepal. The match is scheduled for 5pm kick-off at the Dashrath Stadium on Sunday.