Machhindra beat Army 1-0 to lift maiden titleAn own goal from Bikash Khawas saw Machhindra triumph in the winners-take all clash. The winners bag Rs 5 million.
Machhindra Club edged Tribhuvan Army Club 1-0 to clinch their maiden Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division League title at the Dashrath Stadium in Tripureshwor on Saturday.
An own goal from defender Bikash Khawas in the first half shattered Army's dream of lifting their first-ever league title. Army headed into the final match of the competition with a point advantage and a draw would have been enough for them to lift the trophy. On the other hand, Machhindra needed a win.
"We knew we had no other choice but to win. It is also difficult to score against Army and we had set the strategy of utilising set pieces for goals because we have scored many goals from set-pieces in the league. And we were successful to score from a freekick," said Machhindra coach Prabesh Katuwa, whose side were promoted to ‘A’ Division in 2004.
With the win, Machhindra finished with 31 points from 13 matches despite facing a point deduction before the league even began. They were penalised for finishing second from bottom in the last edition of league which did not have the provision of relegation. Army finished runners- up with 28 points. Machhindra collected a winners cheque for Rs5 million, while Army walked away with Rs3.5 million.
The departmental team had gone through a similar situation in the 2005-06 league season. They could have secured the title with a draw against Nepal Police Club (then Mahendra Police Club), Police won the match to clinch the title.
Army coach Nabin Neupane said: "Nepal Army and I individually had big opportunity to win the league. We had won many gold cups and the National Games. League trophy was the only silverware missing in the cabinet."
He added that the players came up short when it mattered the most. "Our strategy was to press from the wings. That plan didn’t work out in the first half for us. We had a few opportunities to score late into the second half but failed to grab them."
The match never really lived up to its billing with the goal-scoring incident in the 33rd minute being the exception. Machhindra opened the scoring when defender Ranjit Dhimal's 40-yard freekick entered the net after taking a deflection of Khawas' head. Army custodian Bikash Kuthu was injured as he collided with the post while diving to save the ball. He was rushed to the hospital and replaced by Gandip Khadka.
The second half was much vibrant and Dipak Rai, who wore the captain's armband in place of Biraj Maharjan due to injury, threatened seven minutes into the restart. But he was denied by defender Bikash in the one-on-one situation inside the area.
Machhindra again came close to scoring in the hour-mark when Devendra Tamang’s strike from the area forced goalie Khadak to a diving save.
Army went close to finding an equaliser in the 68th minute. Bit Bharat Khawas's goal-bound header was deflected of Devendra Tamang and went wide. Ten minutes later, Machhindra goalie Bishal Shrestha cut Tanka Basnet’s cross intended at Bharat.
Nawayug Shrestha wasted a golden opportunity in the 86th after a defence-splitting pass from Tanka Basnet as he was late to react as Machhindra's Nigerian defender Peter Segun cleared the danger.
Machhindra survived a scare in the injury time when Bishal Rai headed to make a goalline clearance and deny Bikash's header on Bharat corner.
Machhindra coach Katuwal also suggested that the league be held on a regular basis. "The players would have got the opportunity to play for five to six months if the event was held in a double round-robin format. Playing on a regular basis would have keep players fit and it would have benefitted the national team," said Katuwal, who took charge of a top tier side for the first time after spending almost two decades as an 'A' division player.