Bring the cup home - Himachal's fairytale win against Jharkhand

Himachal Pradesh summoned the spirit of Ajax as it shocked an undefeated Jharkhand in the Junior Girls' National Football Championship final.

Himachal Pradesh showed no nerves against an imposing Jharkhand team to win the final 3-1.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It's one of those dreadful summer afternoons when your shirt simply clings to every edge of your torso. The mighty sun flexes his muscles and the Jharkhand team, clad in its Brazil-esque yellow jerseys with green details, take to the pitch for their warm-ups. It's 2:35 pm and the final of the Junior Girls' National Football Championship is to begin in another 55 minutes at the Polo Ground here.

The team has been in formidable form, having pummelled 38 goals and conceding none on its way to the final. The girls, unperturbed by the glaring sun, set about their stretches on coach Dharmender Singh's commands.

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At the other end of the pitch are their challengers for the title, the underdogs, the Himachal Pradesh team. Jharkhand has blown away every team it has faced thus far, while Himachal has been made to work hard for its wins. But on Wednesday, the two teams appear as equals. Each player appears to have a mirror image in the other team, with the only major visible difference being that the 11 Himachal girls sport a close-cropped hairdo.

The Himachal side, which reached the final after a stoppage-time win against Haryana, was widely considered as just another easy obstacle in Jharkhand's path to the title. For Jharkhand boasts a terrific defence and a lightning-quick attack. But all those notions went up in smoke as soon as referee Ruba Devi blew the whistle, and Himachal threw the kitchen sink at the opposition defence from the get-go.

Much like the Ajax side that took the fight to Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League clash on Tuesday, Himachal unexpectedly soared into the lead within three minutes of kick-off. Captain Anju's strike left Jharkhand shell-shocked and forced the side to chase the game for the first time this tournament.

Jharkhand managed to get back on level terms five minutes later, but its famed impenetrable defence was undone once again in the 11th minute when Kiran's pile-driver of a strike busted the net. The goal severely dampened Jharkhand's spirits and their disappointment slowly began to creep into their game. When the rare goal-scoring chance did appear, the Himachal defence was quick to snuff it out, leaving the Jharkhand attackers with drooped shoulders and bowed heads.

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Manisha's goal in the 33rd minute all but sealed the tie. Himachal headed into the half-time break with a commanding 3-1 lead and there was little the Jharkhand girls could do to claw their way back into the game.

Contrast to the opening 45, the second half was a relatively quiet affair, except for the constant chirping from Himachal keeper Manisha. The custodian kept her defenders on their toes with her high-pitched voice to ensure that there were no mistakes.

Jharkhand's ace forward Sumati Kumari had a few chances but she uncharacteristically spilled them, much to the frustration of an animated Dharmender on the touchline. Himachal went on to throw bodies ahead in search for the fourth goal that would undoubtedly put the tie beyond doubt, but neither side can find the back of the net.

The full-time whistle blows soon and the Jharkhand players are visibly distraught. But what's surprising is that there's little to no expression on the Himachal Pradesh players' faces. It almost looks like they were expecting to cruise to the win, like it was their title to lift.

The public address system at the Polo Ground belted out “ramenez a coupe a la maison,” France's 2018 World Cup winning song at the half time interval. The song title roughly translates to “bring the cup home.”

Similar to how not many, barring yours truly, had expected France to win the World Cup title, very few fancied Himachal Pradesh's chances too. But at the end of the tournament, both teams went home with the trophies they deservedly won.

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