Nepali women spikers bow out with their heads held highNepal fought back from a set down to a 2-1 lead, but India defended the title by winning the next two sets.
Nepali women’s volleyball team gave a scare to the defending champions India at the South Asian Games but had to be content with a silver medal.
In the final held at the Dashrath Stadium covered hall on Tuesday, the home team showed a lot of promise, bouncing back from a set down to a 2-1 lead before losing 25-17, 23-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-6 in a painful manner.
“We are disappointed to have lost the match from a strong position,” Nepal head coach Jagadish Bhatta said after the match. “But based on the preparations and the support we have received from everyone, we have to be content with the way we have performed throughout the tournament.”
It was the by far the best showing by Nepali women's volleyball team at the South Asian Games. Having defeated Sri Lanka in straight sets in the semifinals, Nepal won a set against India for the first time. They followed that up by winning two more sets against the South Asian powerhouse in the final.
It was Nepali women’s first appearance in the South Asian Games volleyball final and a well-deserved silver medal for their efforts at the regional sporting spectacle. They had earlier won bronze medals in 1999, 2006 and 2016.
“This is an unforgettable moment for us. We were so close to the gold medal,” said Bhatta while blaming Nepal’s luck which deserted them in the match. Shouldering the responsibility for the defeat, he offered his apologies to the crowd who turned out in big numbers in the final. “I’m sorry for the loss. We made mistakes. But as always, we move ahead by making amends, that is how a team grows,” he said.
“These are good signs for Nepali women’s volleyball. If the state increases its investment in volleyball and other sports, the quality will certainly improve.”
Having lost the first set 25-17, Nepal made a strong comeback in the next set as they won 25-23. Like in the first set against India in the league stage match, Nepal were 24-22 ahead. However, unlike in the league match where they had wasted two set points, Nepali women spikers held their nerves to avoid a similar sour fate.
Giving continuity to their momentum, Nepal did not look back from 17-17 to win the third set 25-21.
In the fourth set, Nepal were only two points behind at 17-19 but a few errors saw India open up a four-point lead. The home team, which looked physically and psychologically drained, and India won the set 20-25 to get back in the game.
“After India made a comeback, the girls got a bit nervous. But this experience has taught them a lesson that will help them improve in the future,” said Bhatta, putting a brave face.
The decisive set began poorly for Nepal as they fell 3-0 down. Service errors further their misery for the home team as they trail 10-5. India, who looked calm and composed, silenced the home crowd to take the set 15-6 and the gold.
A teary-eyed Nepal captain Aruna Shahi said, “Minor errors cost us a gold medal. But, we’ve got to be happy for the way we played, especially today.
“There is room for improvement,” said Shahi, who took the team’s reins just before the Games. “Our team is very good, but we have to have regular training. There shouldn’t be long gaps between tournaments.”
India’s head coach Bal Chandaran was relieved to have overcome a spirited Nepali side rooted to the hilt by partisan home crowd.
“With such an involved and intense crowd support, Nepal were outstanding,” he said. “Despite making some unforced errors in the second and third sets, we got back together and reduced mistakes. It boosted our confidence in the fourth and fifth sets.”
India captain Nirmal Tanwar, who braved dengue infection to play in the final, acknowledged Nepal’s improvement, “It was a very good performance from Nepali girls. They gave us a tough time in both the meetings during these Games. I’m sure they will get better when we face each other in the future.”