Gurung’s lone goal steers Army to Aaha Rara semisThe substitute forward scored the all important goal in the 70th minute to set up a last four clash against Manang Marshyangdi Club for Thursday.
A solitary goal from substitute Rajiv Gurung gave Tribhuvan Army FC 1-0 win over Friends Club as they cruised into the semi-final of the 20th Aaha Rara Gold Cup Football Tournament in Pokhara on Tuesday.
Gurung, who replaced forward winger Tanka Basnet in the 64th minute, netted the all important goal six minutes after his entry into the ground to send five-time champions Three Star knocking out after their first game played behind closed doors.
Gurung, yet to start for the departmental side in Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division league and who has played for just 41 minutes in his two appearances, scored in a counter attack after he found George Prince Karki's defence-splitting pass. He easily beat an advancing Cameroonian goalie Priso Njanga, the only obstacle in his way, with a low finish at the outer edge of the area.
Army will meet record six-time champions Manang Marshyangdi Club in the semi-final on Thursday. The first semi-final scheduled for Wednesday will see 'A' division league leaders in action against departmental team APF FC.
Army, yet to lift the trophy in the oldest annual football tournament of the country despite making into the final four times, played in absence of four key players–defenders Gautam Shrestha and Suman Aryal and midfielders Dinesh Henjan and Satosh Tamang. They are all in the national team camp to prepare for Mauritius friendly matches to take place on Saturday and Tuesday along with Three Star defender Ananta Tamang and forward Ayush Ghalan.
The entertaining match saw the departmental team come closer to scoring as early as in the sixth minute before forward Karki's strike at the far post in one-on-one with Njanga was cleared by the custodian. Three Star replied through Mikchen Tamang who ended up shooting wide from the edge.
The physically strong Army team piled consistent pressure and kept the Three Star custodian busy. A few minutes before scoring, goalkeeper Njanga punched Karki's scorcher to safety. Three Star were denied a scoring opportunity five minutes from time when Army goalie Bikesh Kuthu parried Tamang's corner delivery that fell on the way to Laken Limbu. The midfielder volleyed to set it for Bijay Bhujel and the latter's strike on goal was defended by captain Bharat Khawas who headed the ball.
Army, defeated by the same opponents in the final three years ago, had played a 0-0 draw in the league last month. After pulling the hard fought victory, Army coach Raju Tamang said that they were determined to create history by winning their first ever Aaha Rara trophy.
“I think the semi-final will be an evenly contested affair because they will also be playing in the absence of national players and won't have a balanced team,” said the former Nepali international Tamang. “We lost due to our own weaknesses in the past and we will try not to repeat such mistakes.”
Three Star coach Urjan Shrestha blamed injuries to some of his key players and a lack of fitness for the defeat.
“It was an evenly contested game, but the boys lacked match fitness and failed to live up to expectations,” said Shrestha.
Meanwhile, hosts Sahara Club of Pokhara have announced to permit one third of spectators inside the stadium. According to club president Hariram Gurung, they would maintain all Covid-19 protocols and allow one-third of the spectators at the parapet. All matches of the tournament until the quarter-finals were held behind closed doors, allowing only match officials, sponsors and media persons.