Bhandari takes Nepal to the summitForward Sabitra Bhandari inspired Nepal to a 3-0 victory over Bangladesh as the hosts stormed into the semi-final as Group ‘A’ winners in the fifth SAFF Women’s Championship at the Shahid Rangashala in on Saturday.
Forward Sabitra Bhandari inspired Nepal to a 3-0 victory over Bangladesh as the hosts stormed into the semi-final as Group ‘A’ winners in the fifth SAFF Women’s Championship at the Shahid Rangashala in on Saturday.
Bhandari struck one and set another for Manjali Kumari Yonjan after Nepal were gifted the opening goal in the sixth minute of the match between two already qualified teams. All three goals for Nepal came before the interval and the hosts struggled to score after the break despite creating numerous chances.
While Nepal had defeated Bhutan 3-0 in the tournament opener on Tuesday, Bangladesh had overcome the tournament minnows 2-0 in the three-team group to qualify with one match in hand. Saturday’s comprehensive victory helped Nepal finish at the top of the standings with six points.
Bangladesh followed them in semis as runners-up with three points, while Bhutan crashed out without opening their account and a scoring a single goal in the tournament. In the semi-finals on Wednesday, Nepal will take on Group ‘B’ runners-up yet to be decided. India and Sri Lanka play on Sunday to decide the pool champions. It was Nepal’s fifth win over Bangladesh out of six meetings between the two sides. The last meeting in the Asia Qualifier for 2020 Olympics in Myanmar had ended on a 1-1 stalemate.
Saturday’s inspirational performance from 23-year-old Bhandari left coaches from both the sides awestruck including Bangladesh’s Golam Robbani Choton. “Nepal’s No 9 is among the top strikers of South Asian region,” said the Bangladeshi in a post-match conference. Nepal coach Hari Khadka seconded Choton.
“She is the best striker in South Asia and her performance was the difference today. She has great speed combined with skills. Her movement earned us the second goal and set the third,” he said. Khadka also said the match went as per the strategy.
“We had set the plans of getting on the score sheet within 15 minutes and we were successful on it. It is all the result of hard work from the players,” he said.
Backed by a huge number of local supporters, Nepal took control of the match from the onset, beat the opponent with skills and speeds combining with well-coordinated passes. Nepal could have scored in the fifth minute but the prolific Bhandari delayed in firing at the post after beating Bangladesh goalie Rupna Chakma allowing Bangladeshi defender to clear the goal-bound ball. She had sprinted with the ball from the centre line after being set by midfielder Anita Basnet.
The pressure paid a minute later courtesy an own goal. Bangladeshi defender Masura Parvin inadvertently headed the ball into her own net in a bid to clear Manamaya Limbu long pass at the area. Nepal came closer to scoring yet again in 10th minute when skipper Niru Thapa chipped wide in a one-on-one encounter with Bangladeshi shot stopper Chakma after she was set by Punam Jargha Magar. Five minutes later Bhandari’s tight angle shot from the close range in a pass from Hira Kumari Bhujel was blocked by Chakma.
Bhandari’s quest for goal finally ended in the 23rd minute. The striker collected a pass from Bhujel and tactfully beat Bangladeshi defender and advancing custodian Chakma from a tight angle to double the advantage. With the second goal of the tournament, Bhandari took her international tally to 24 goals. She is only behind Anu Lama (35) and Jamuna Gurung (25) in the list of all-time highest scorers.
Bhandari was in hand to score her second in the 26th after she was fed inside the area by a long cross from Yonjan but only ended up firing wise. Three minutes later the forward set a sublime pass to Yonjan who tapped in to score the third goal to the delight of home crowd. It was Yonjan’s fourth international goal having scored for Nepal in the last three matches, the first came against Myanmar in the final of Hero Gold Cup on February 15, and against Bhutan in the opening match of the tournament.
Defender Parvin rescued Bangladesh in the 58th minute as she cleared Bhandari’s goal-bound low drive when Chakma was already beaten. Bangladesh’s first real chance of the match came in the 68th minute through forward Mosammat Sirat Jahan whose low drive forced Nepal goalie Anjila Tumbapo Subba for a diving save. Bangladesh came closer to scoring in the 90th minute when Jahan’s scorcher from the zone smashed the inner edge of the goalpost and rebounded back.
Team P W D L GF GA Pts
Nepal 2 2 0 0 6 0 6
Bangladesh 2 1 0 1 2 3 3
Bhutan 2 0 0 2 0 5 0