Bhandari, Basnet score two each as hosts thump Bhutan in SAFF Championship opener


Sabitra Bhandari and Anita Basnet netted two goals each as Nepal thumped Bhutan 4-0 in the opening match of the SAFF Women's Championship here at the Dasharath Stadium today.

Star striker Bhandari opened the scoring in the first half before the home team netted three goals in the latter half to record a comprehensive victory on a drenched pitch caused by sudden rain.

After Hira Kumari Bhujel struck against the post in the 11th minute, Bhandari put the home team ahead in the next minute. Bhandari, who is popularly known as Samba in sporting fraternity, slotted home from close range at a time when Bhutan goalkeeper Sangita Monger had come forward to clear the ball.

Bhandari netted her 40th goal for the national team with a brilliant solo effort in the 68th minute. Taking a pass from Rekha Kumari Paudel near the centre line, Bhandari guided the ball alone dodging a couple of defenders before slotting past Bhutan goalkeeper Monger to net her 10th goal against Bhutan.

After Bhandari's heroics, it was time for Anita Basnet to shine. The midfielder beat past a couple of defenders and fired home from the edge of the penalty box to make it 3-0 in the 73rd minute. Basnet then scored her second goal from the box in rebound after Bhutan goalkeeper Monger punched back a cross from Anita KC in the 85th minute.

Player-of-the-match Basnet was happy with her and team's overall performance. "It was a bit difficult in the first half because of rain but we played comfortably in the second half," said Basnet. "I had to prove myself as my performance in the last outing was not satisfactory. And I think I did that," she added.

Players from both the sides struggled to keep the ball possession and make passes due to damp pitch although the hosts created a couple of opportunities in the first half.

Bhandari muffed up a chance in the ninth minute before Bhujel hit the post two minutes later. Bhandari controlled the ball spilled by Bhutan goalkeeper Monger in the 32nd minute but saw the goalbound strike blocked by a Bhutan defender. Moments later Bhandari headed wide following a cross from Anita Basnet. Bhutan created a lone move in the first half but skipper Pema Chhoden Chhiring could not utilise opportunity.

The second half belonged to Nepal, especially Bhandari and Basnet. Dipa Shahi had a chance to score in the 47th minute but the forward shot over the bar following a pass from Bhandari, while Bhutan defenders cleared an acute cross from Bhandari in the 56th minute. Basnet shot wide off the post in the 64th minute.

Nepal's substitute goalkeeper Anjana Rana Magar denied Bhutan's Sonam Choden in the 88th minute.

Nepal skipper Kumar Thapa lauded the team's performance. "We cannot predict the weather and number of goals. We had a better ball possession and we tried all the substitutes as well. I am happy with the way the players responded today. Bhutan gave was a tough time in the first half but I enjoyed the second half," he said. "We put in our hard efforts in the seven-week training and I am satisfied with the outcome today," added the former national team midfielder. Thapa said Manjali Yonjan could not come with the squad due to high fever.

"As per the health protocol, we have isolated her in the hotel and sent her samples for the coronavirus and dengue tests," he said.

Bhutan assistant coach Tanka Maya Ghale said her players put in their best efforts. "They tried their best today and we will try again next time," said Ghale. "Our girls did their best but somehow the match got affected by the rain. Comparatively, we are now closer to Nepal's level," she said. "Nepali players are physically strong and they have good speed players," added Ghale.

Nepal will now play against Sri Lanka in their second and final Group B match on September 12. Bhutan and Sri Lanka will meet on September 9 in the three-team pool. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives are in Group A. Top two teams from both groups will make it to the semi-finals after league round with pool winners meeting runners-up. On Wednesday, India will play against Pakistan, while Maldives face Sri Lanka.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 7, 2022 of The Himalayan Times.