SAG football: Indian women retain title

Riding on Kamala Devi’s brace, India hammered Nepal 4-0 to defend its title at the Games.

Players of the Indian women's football team celebrate with fans after defeating Nepal in the final of the South Asian Games in Shillong.   -  M. Moorthy

India desperately needed its striker Kamala Devi to get back into top form in the women’s football final of the South Asian Games. The Manipur lass did not disappoint as she came up with a gem of a performance to score a brace and help the host script a thumping 4-0 victory over Nepal here on Monday.

Kamala’s forte is speed and control. However, for some reason, she was unable to convert several chances in the league matches against Maldives and Nepal. But on Monday, the striker was at her best. Kamala began with a left-footed shot in the 11th minute that sailed over the crosspiece. Twenty minutes later, she struck for India after receiving a perfect cross from Bembem Devi, who was playing her last match for the country.

 

In the first half, which was completely dominated by India, midfielder Premeshwori Devi made several inroads from the right but India failed to score. Sasmita Malik, who played exceptionally well from the wings, troubled the Nepal defence in the second session with her curling aerial crosses. Kamala and Bala Devi came close to converting some of these crosses.

Bembem’s free-kick resulted in India’s second goal. A poor clearance saw the ball going straight to Kamala, whose left-footer on the rise was right on target.

It wasn’t that Nepal didn’t try to score. Forwards Anu Lama and Sabitra Bhandari tried their best but failed to penetrate the stout Indian defence led by Ashalata Devi.

India’s goal No. 3 came following a cross from Sasmita. As the Nepal goalkeeper Lila Lamgede fumbled, Bala was quick to push the ball home. With 10 minutes left for the final whistle, Ashalata got into the act with a stinging right-footer that beat the Nepal goalkeeper.

India’s coach Sajid Yousuf Dhar thanked the people who supported the team even when it was not doing well. “People supported us despite our poor performance early on. Against Nepal and Maldives in the league, we were not able to convert our chances. There were concerns about our defence, but they played outstandingly well today. All credit to the players,” he said.

Sajid also praised Kamala for her grand show. “She is the main striker for us. She came good at the right time,” he said.

Bembem said her junior players promised to get the gold medal and they had kept their word.

The Nepal coach, Dhruba Bahadur, attributed the defeat to the first goal which, according to him, came after his wingers had swapped places without his permission. “When my wingers changed positions without my permission, that’s when India scored the first goal. From then on, India applied pressure,” he said.

“Their senior players played confidently, while ours didn’t,” Bahadur added.

The result (final):

India 4 (Kamala Devi 32 & 56, Bala Devi 71, Ashlata Devi 80) bt Nepal 0.