Manipur’s monopoly continues

The triumphant Manipur team.-C. VENKATACHALAPATHY

Manipur won its 15th National title, 12th on the trot, beating West Bengal in the final. G. Prasad reports.

A dominant and aggressive Manipur team proved too much for its opponents on way to clinching the title at the 17th senior National women’s football championship, in Neyveli recently. And the team did not concede a single goal! It was the 15th National crown for Manipur, the last 12 coming on the trot.

West Bengal, which lost to Manipur in the final, is the only other State to have won the National title. It did so twice, in 1992 and 1997, incidentally, beating Manipur. As many as 22 teams took part in the Neyveli tournament organised by the Cuddalore District Football Association (CDFA) and its women’s wing.

The teams were divided into seven clusters. Manipur, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Goa and Punjab topped their respective clusters and entered the quarter-final league, which was played by two groups of four teams each. Haryana gained the last berth as the best second placed team in the clusters.

Manipur and West Bengal from Group ‘A’ and Tamil Nadu and Orissa from Group ‘B’ advanced to the semifinals. Manipur had a relatively easy outing against Orissa in the semifinals, as the other encounter, between Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, was a thriller. After going into the lead through a stunning 20-yard freekick from Vidyavathi, the host surrendered the initiative when Shilpi Deb headed in the equaliser. West Bengal women then held their nerve in the shootout to emerge victorious.

“The girls played really good football to reach the last four stage. For the Tamil Nadu team which lost in the semifinals to West Bengal only in the shootout, there were a lot of positives to take from the tourney,” said the Tamil Nadu coach R. Inbamani.

All the matches, held at the Bharathi Stadium, drew good crowds. The attendance was much more for matches involving Tamil Nadu. And the players did not disappoint the crowd either. As many as 186 goals were scored in the 18-day tournament. Sradanjali (Orissa), Bala Devi (Manipur), Deepa (Haryana), Nejumunnisa (Kerala) and Blanka Baretto (Goa) scored hat-tricks, while veteran Manipur striker Tababi Devi performed a double hat-trick. “A large turnout of fans is always a big encouragement for the players and the organisers as well. Support from the audience far exceeded our expectations,” said the CDFA secretary K. Radhakrishnan.

Although Tamil Nadu could not reach the final, the summit clash commanded a good patronage. Going by its form and also because it had beaten Bengal in the quarterfinal league, Manipur started as favourite in the final.

However, the Bengal coach Ranjana Chatterjee felt that the girls had it in them to challenge Manipur. She was right. In the initial stages of the final, Bengal played an all-attacking game and was on the verge of scoring on quite a few occasions.

But once the Manipur players got into their rhythm, they were simply unstoppable. After taking the lead through Kamala Devi’s free-kick in the first half, Tababi Devi made it 2-0 in the second session to assert Manipur’s supremacy.

THE RESULTS

Final: Manipur 2 (Kamala Devi, Tababi Devi) bt West Bengal 0.

Semifinals: Manipur 2 (Rebika Devi, Tababi Devi) bt Orissa 0; West Bengal bt Tamil Nadu 3-2 via tiebreaker (Full-time: 1-1).