Nepal end goal drought, finally

Trivandrum, December 27

Bimal Gharti Magar ended Nepal’s goal drought in the 12th game but that was not enough to stop India from registering a 4-1 victory in the Group A match of the ninth SAFF Championship here at the Trivandrum Stadium today.

Gharti Magar opened the scoring for Nepal, who had not scored in the last 11 matches, in the third minute before India hit back with a brace from Lallianzuala Chhangte and one each from skipper Sunil Chhetri and Rowllin Borges. This is Nepal’s first early exit from the tournament in five years.

They had failed to progress beyond group stage in 2009 in Bangladesh.

Nepal needed a victory to make it to the last four and they made a positive start with Gharti Magar giving an early lead to the team in the third minute. Fed by Rohit Chand, Nawayug Shrestha did well to dodge as many as two defenders but the forward struck against the post and the ball rebounded to play.

The unmarked U-19 team skipper Thapa Magar then buried the ball into the nets from close.

India levelled the scores through Borges in the 26th minute when he struck home from the box following a Narayan Das free kick. In the 67th minute, Chhetri put the home side ahead with an easy goal from the six yard box after being fed by Narzary.

Nepali defenders were to blame for both the goals as they failed to clear the ball.

In the 81st minute, substitute Chhangte netted his first international when his curling powerful shot kissed the nets that left Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Limbu unmoved. Nepal conceded another goal moments before the final whistle when Chhangte headed home following a cross from Borges.

The win meant India topped the group with six points, while Sri Lanka finished second with three. They joined Afghanistan and Maldives in the last four.

Despite the thrashing loss, Nepal’s coach Patrick Aussems was happy with the performance of the players. “Our first half was good and India dominated the match in second half,” he said. “We conceded goals due to inexperienced defense line. I am building the team for future, so this tournament is a good exposure for the players,” he added.

“We had to take risks as we had to win the match. I do not have any regret regarding this match but I do regret the match against Sri Lanka,” he added.

Aussems brought in Nawayug Shrestha in place of skipper Anil Gurung handing the captain’s armband to Biraj Maharjan and started with Bishal Rai in midfield resting Bikram Lama.

Earlier, in the eighth minute Aditya Chaudhary beautifully tackled Sunil Chhetri’s dangerous penetration inside the box, while Sanju Pradhan’s shot from close went wide in 21st. In the 50th minute, Nawayug Shrestha came close to scoring but his shot was saved by India goalkeeper Subrata Paul.

In the 58th minute, Heman Gurung’s powerful strike from the edge of the box was punched out by Indian custodian Paul. In the 69th minute, Chaudhary cleared Chhangte’s shot from the goalline.

India coach Stephen Constantine said his boys took Nepal lightly in the beginning. “After the goal, they took it seriously and controlled the match.

Nepal gave us a tough fight as they had to win the match. The youth players in the squad have good future,” he added.