Lahore, 24 December: India once again proved their supremacy in South Asian women’s football when a 66-minute freekick from Sasmita Mallik made the difference in an entertaining final on Thursday. They defeated Nepal 1-0 at the Cox’s Bazar Stadium to take home the winning trophy of inaugural SAFF Women Football Championship.
The scenes at the end of an intriguing final were what one expects to see every other day. Both teams were celebrating in their own style. The euphoric Indian players did a lap of a tribal dance with Sasmita being the toast of the party. A delighted Sasmita thanked God at being able to score the winning goal from the freekick.
“I had practised freekicks in the last two training sessions as per my coach’s direction. I tried to float the ball over the keeper’s head and it went in. I thank God that that ball went in,” exclaimed a humble Sasmita, who finished top of the goalscoring chart with 14 goals to her name.
At the other end of the ground were Nepal, merry and content firstly at having reached the final and then for putting on a brave fight in it.
Jamuna Gurung, the Nepal captain expressed her satisfaction over their effort and conceded that the better team won.“We are satisfied with our effort, because India are a stronger opponent. We wanted to defend as well as we could and were looking to go up on counterattacks. But they did not give us much opportunity to attack,” said Jamuna who has led her team from the front in the tournament scoring 10 goals.
However, amongst the satisfied Nepal faces, one face looked strikingly glum, that of goalkeeper Chandra Dahal who had foiled numerous attacks till she was found wanting on that Sasmita freekick.
India threatened the opposition goal from the very beginning, with their three-pronged strike force of Tababi Devi, Bala Devi and Sasmita creating havoc in the Nepal defence. It was only thanks to Nepal’s resolute defending and the valiant efforts of Dahal that the first half stayed scoreless.
India stepped up the pressure early in the second half but for the profligacy of the strikers, failed to take the lead.
When it looked like the regulation time would remain barren, Sasmita came up with a trick up her sleeve, floating a dipping freekick from 25 yards out deceiving the Nepal keeper in flight.
And India’s held on to their slender lead with relative comfort as the Nepalese failed to muster any meaningful attacks. As the final whistle was blown, the ecstatic Indians revelled in glory while Nepal prided themselves with the second best status and the fair play trophy.
And it was fair play more than anything else that shone all through the tournament, and a message of friendship from all the eight participating teams for the last 12 days.