Himachal Pradesh produced a flawless display to outsmart Jharkhand 3-1 and win the junior girls' National Football Championship at the Polo Ground here on Wednesday.
Jharkhand, which scored a staggering 38 goals on its way to the final, was the undoubted favourite to lift the title but struggled to replicate its free-scoring form against a resolute Himachal defence.
Himachal skipper Anju gave her side the best of starts when she struck the opening goal as early as the fifth minute. The goal was constructed off a string of neat, short passes, with the last one finding Anju in the box, who coolly slotted home. This was the first time the Jharkhand defence had conceded a goal in the tournament, and it was a telling sign of what was to come.
Jharkhand managed to restore parity three minutes later when Kuwari Indwar nestled the ball into the top corner of the net, but Himachal bounced back within the next two minutes.
Himachal forward Kiran won the ball at the edge of the box, got it onto her preferred right foot and struck a thunderous drive past a flummoxed Jharkhand 'keeper to give her side the lead once again.
Jharkhand's ace forward Sumati Kumari, with 17 goals in four matches, had a golden opportunity to put her side back on level terms in the 33rd minute. She raced towards the goal and found herself in an one-on-one situation with just the goalkeeper to beat, but a last-ditch tackle from stopper-back Ritu Devi prevented her from taking the shot. Jharkhand would be left to rue its missed chances as Himachal made it 3-1 in off the very next play.
Himachal's Manisha, operating on the left, won the ball in the attacking third, got past her marker and stormed into the box with relative ease. With the goal at her mercy, she placed the ball in the bottom right corner to put her team in the driver's seat.
That proved to be enough as the second half was a goalless affair and the Himachal defence stood its ground to thwart away the few Jharkhand attacks and secure a convincing triumph.
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