The last time India had beaten Nepal, Ngangom Bala Devi had scored a brace to guide her side to a gold medal in the South Asian Games in 2019.
Four years later, the team, without an injured Bala Devi, played out its second of the two friendlies as a goalless draw against a defensively resilient Nepal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday.
Thomas Dennerby’s side, playing with five changes, had to forcibly replace Bala Devi and Aditi Chauhan, who were out with a ligament strain and an ACL injury, respectively. Dangmei Grace, who played as a winger in the previous match, was the sole striker here.
Unlike the previous match, India looked aggressive from kick-off, with local girl Indumathi Kathiresan playing as a No. 10 (attacking midfielder) as opposed to te role of a deeper midfielder in the previous match.
Indumathi created the first chance in the match in the 15th minute, when – after getting a pass from Manisha Kalyan from the corner – she crossed for Grace, whose header flew just over the net.
But the Tamil Nadu girl – despite the draw – was a joy to watch, with her quick dribbles through defenders, marauding runs along wings and shots in the penalty box as if the cameraman could keep the focus stuck on her and understand the entire game.
In the 21st minute, she almost scored when fellow TN girl Karthika Angamuthu delivered a through ball from the midfield. And, after a dummy by Anju Tamang, Indumathi shot on goal only to see the linesman raise his flag for offside.
India looked to have taken good lessons from its previous match as Sabitra Bhandari – who had scored twice in the previous match – was marked carefully, with Sweety Devi and Angamuthu freezing her (Sabitra’s) movement in the final third.
The Blue Tigresses had their best chance to score in the 78th minute when Dalima Chhibber’s corner kick was met by Anju in the air. But a goal-line clearance by Hira Bhujel ensured the deadlock remained intact.
Since then, India continued raining shots with Karishma and Sandhya coming close to scoring in the 86th minute when the former’s long-ranger shot and the latter’s header were both denied by three Nepal defenders on the goal-line.
Three minutes later, Nepal captain Anjila Subba made a brilliant save, denying Karishma a chance to find her name on the scoresheet. Dalima’s curling free-kick was timely connected by the substitute, but Anjila’s reflexes had the last laugh as both teams had to suffice with a draw.
India will play Jordan next to prepare for its Olympic Qualifiers and – unlike the two draws against Nepal in Chennai – will hope to end up on the winning side.