Bal header sends Machhindra Club to AFC CupThe winger scores his fifth league goal as the champions overcome Nepal Police Club 1-0 to replace Manang Marshyangdi Club on the summit.
Winger Sunil Bal struck the decisive goal as champions Machhindra Club confirmed AFC Cup spot with a 1-0 win over Nepal Police Club that secured them pole position in the seventh rounds in the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League at the Dasharath Stadium on Sunday.
Bal headed home the only goal of the match in the 22nd minute as Machhindra made sure that they finish the seventh round on top of the standings, replacing Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) from the summit. Unbeaten Machhindra have 17 points, one point ahead of the MMC, after playing equal seven matches. Police are tied on 10th place with the APF Club on six points.
ANFA has decided to send the leaders at the completion of the seventh round for preliminary rounds of the AFC Cup, the second tier inter-country club football tournament of Asia to be organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Though the league champions need to represent the country at the Cup, the football governing body ANFA decided to send the seventh round leaders due to an unmanaged league schedule.
Machhindra, the defending champions, should have represented Nepal last year in the Cup but they were deprived of their chance as they did not fulfil AFC’s mandatory requirements of obtaining AFC Club licence. Instead, the second-placed Army, who had obtained club licence by meeting the AFC’s requirements, represented Nepal.
Having edged MMC 1-0 in their last fixture, Machhindra came into the match with a must-win pressure and played with four forwards in Nepali international trios Manish Dangi, Bimal Gharti Magar and Sunil Bal besides Azarbaijan’s Norlan Novruzov.
It was a must-win encounter for us. Injury and suspension of players had created further problems for us. But we were successful in our goal," Machhindra coach Prabesh Katuwal said, adding that they faced a tough time in the beginning after the opponents played with five defenders. Katuwal also added that they would add more foreign players to strengthen their squad for the AFC Cup.
The star studded champions dominated ball possession from the start and were paid off when Bal was left free to head Nepali international Bishal Rai’s freekick at the near post. The goal also took the wingers' scoring tally to five goals, highest individual score in the league. Machhindra got the freekick after Nuvruzov was recklessly brought down by defender Hemanta Shestha which also earned him a yellow card.
The champions, who have maintained clean sheets in the six matches, also created a few other scoring chances but failed to capitalise on them. Goalie Satrughan Chaudhary rescued the departmental team deep into first half when he made a diving save to thwart midfielder Rai’s volley from the area in Bal’s header.
"We were disappointed to see the Army playing instead of us in the last AFC Cup. But we are happy that we got the chance this time," Machhindra captain Sujal Shrestha said.
Winger Dangi squandered a scoring opportunity in the second half firing wide at the unguarded net after he collected the ball dropped by onrushing goalie Chaudhary in Bal’s pass.
Police, who barely threatened the opponents, came closer to scoring in the mid second half when Suman Lama’s 20-yard freekick hit the woodwork after he was fouled by Machhindra defender Andres Nia.
Machhindra captain Shrestha, who replaced Dangi in the 76th, threatened two minutes after his entry when he unleashed a 25-yard scorcher only for goalie Chaudhary to make a diving save.
Police coach Ananta Thapa said that his side's performance against the defending champions would boost the morale of the team. "We have played most of our tough matches and I hope we can avoid relegation," said Thapa.
Satdobato vs Himalayan Sherpa
Time: 13:00 NST
Venue: Dasharath Stadium