SAG: Nepal outsmarts India to win football gold

The win saw Nepal reclaiming the South Asian Games football gold after 23 years and picking up its third gold in the process.

Nepal celebrates after reclaiming the South Asian Games football gold after 23 years.   -  PTI

Nepal made a fine comeback in the second half to erase a goal deficit and beat India 2-1 in the final of men’s football here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Monday. The win saw Nepal reclaiming the South Asian Games football gold after 23 years and picking up its third gold in the process.

India went in the lead late in the first half through Halicharan Narzary before second-half substitute Prakash Budhatokhi got Nepal back in the game scoring a fine free-kick. Budhatokhi became the game-changer for Nepal when he set up a fine cross to help Nawayug Shrestha score the winner. India’s search for South Asian supremacy after 21 years thus went in vain as the host gave in to a more resolute opponent failing to preserve the first-half lead.

India showed good organization in midfield and defence to enjoy the advantage in the first half. Sumeet Passi and Udanta Singh were more visible in the Indian attack with their darting runs to the opposition box. With Halicharan Narzary moving up from the left flank and the nippy Jerry Mawihmingthanga doing well as the withdrawn forward behind Passi, the Indian attack looked robust.

Udanta got the ball into the net in the 11th minute with a fine header but the goal was disallowed as the Indian midfielder was ruled off-side. Halicharan then failed to connect a nice cross from Udanta while Passi was off-target on his turn in the 27th minute when he was reached by the former with a nice cross from the left.

The goal route was finally opened by a penalty which came India’s way when Udanta was pulled down inside the box by the Nepal defender Aditya Chaudhary. Halicharan found the target from the spot to establish the lead.

The change of ends saw a much transformed Nepal, as it outran a complacent host with two quick goals in the 66th and 72nd minute. Nepal played a brilliant spell of 15 minutes where it outclassed the host both in organization and speed to outperform it in the end.

Budhatokhi, who came midway in the second half, helped the visitor reorganize its midfield and scored a curling free-kick to restore parity before setting up fine cross to have Shrestha volleying home the winner. India earned at least three chances to equalize in a span of five minutes but Mawihmingthanga (74th), Pritam Kotal (75th) and Rowlin Borges (78th) failed to find the net. The misses in the first half also came to haunt the host in its defeat.

Last edition’s champion Bangladesh picked up the bronze downing Maldives 7-6 in tie-breaker. The two were tied 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes before the penalties werer introduced to decide the bronze medal.

Results:-

Final: Nepal 2 (Prakash Budhatokhi 66, Nawayug Shrestha 72) bt India 1 (Halicharan Narzary 32-pen). Third-place playoff: Bangladesh 7 (2) bt Maldives 6 (2).

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