Nepal Wins U-19 Championship
Nepal defeated India 5-4 on penalties to win the title of the first SAFF U-19 Championship at the ANFA Complex ground today.
This is Nepal’s maiden trophy in the age-group level and the first major trophy for the home side in 22 years. Nepal had earlier won gold medal in the South Asian Federation Games in 1993, also beating India in Bangladesh. Nepal had also won the U-14 Festival of Football — featuring South Asian nations — on home soil in 2002 and 2004.
Today, the championship match went to spot-kick battle after regular time ended in a 1-1 draw. Sojit Gurung paved the way for Nepal’s victory by saving the spot kick of India’s Moinuddin.
All nine penalties were converted thereafter with the home side making it five out of five.
Hemant Thapa Magar, Sunil Bal, Biswas Shrestha, Anjan Thapa and Ananta Tamang scored for Nepal, while Hayden Hapson Fernandes, Sathak Gouli, Daniel Lalhlimpuia and Shahbaaz converted their kicks for India.
The win was also a revenge for Nepal against India, who were the main hurdles to the Himalayan nation in their path to glory. In the last four years, Nepal has lost to India on three occasions in U-16 level — twice in final and once in semi-final.
Nepal took the lead through Tej Tamang’s simple tap-in goal in the 31st minute. Tamang found the nets from close on rebound after Indian goalie Sayak Barai failed to gather Ananta Tamang’s header following a corner kick from Sunil Bal.
At a time when the match was heading towards final whistle, Nepali defender Dinesh Rajbanshi handled the ball inside the danger area and Shahbaaz converted the resulting penalty to level the scores.
Earlier, India custodian Barai denied Nepali skipper Bimal Gharti Magar and Sunil Bal with brilliant saves, while at the other end Nepal goalkeeper Sojit Gurung also made a couple of spectacular saves to keep the home side in the match. While Nepal opted for attacking strategy, India started the match without a forward fielding six mid-fielders and four defenders.
India coach Syed Sabir Pasha accepted they wanted to stop Nepal from scoring. “We were here to win the trophy but could not do that despite playing better than Nepal,” said Pasha. “The crowd was also one of the reasons behind our loss as we do not have experience of playing football in front of such spectators,” he said. “Overall, we had a good tournament.”
Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan was a relieved man and dedicated the trophy to the earthquake-affected people and acting ANFA President Lalit Krishna Shrestha, who had died of electrocution. “This is the result of players’ hard work and it’s great to win the trophy for the country after 22 years,” said Maharjan, the member of the team that won the gold medal in 1993. He also thanked the fans for their selfless support throughout the tournament.
Skipper Bimal Gharti Magar credited the victory to team work. “We played as a unit and we knew from the beginning that India were the main hurdles,” he said. “The players proved that we are capable of beating India and winning the trophy,” Magar added. “As a skipper and a member of the team, I can say that this team has potential to achieve more accolades,” he added.