SAG football: Indian women storm into final

The performances of experienced Bala Devi and youngster Kamala Devi, who scored a brace each, were a reminder that India will be a tough nut to crack in the final against Nepal on Monday.

Indian players along with coach Sajid Yousuf Dhar celebrate Kamala Devi's opening goal against Bangladesh in the women's football semi-final at the South Asian Games in Shillong.   -  M. Moorthy

When India failed to score against Maldives and Nepal, some believed it was because the host team’s senior players were past their prime. However, on Saturday, it was the wisdom and skills of a senior, Bala Devi, which helped India drub Bangladesh 5-1 and enter the summit clash of the 12th South Asian Games here.

The performances of Bala, who made her debut for India in 2005, and a young Kamala Devi - they scored a brace each - were a reminder to the critics that the host will be a tough nut to crack in the final against Nepal on Monday.

In a must-win match, India, as it has always been in the tournament, started well with the forwards, midfielders and defenders working in unison. Kamala Devi was at her athletic best, while Bala was in fine touch with her passes. Bembem Devi marshaled the midfield brilliantly.

Sasmita Malik had the best chance to score early in the first half after getting a long ball from the right, but she hit straight to the goalkeeper Mossamat Roshan Ara. However, Kamala Devi was quick to latch on to the rebound and put it into the net.

Bangladesh was a hapless spectator in the first session. Krishnarani Sarkar and Sirat Jahan Shopna made a couple of moves, but could not breach the Indian defence.

Bala showed her striking prowess with a strong left-footer that gave India a 2-0 lead. Thereafter, it was Bala again as she put through a neat pass for Kamala Devi to score eight minutes before half-time.

In the second half, Bangladesh showed better cohesion in the midfield and even scored, thanks to a header by Sabina Khatun.

However, India raced ahead, as substitute Sanju and Bala scored in quick succession to complete Bangladesh’s rout.

In the post-match press conference, India’s head coach Sajid Yousuf Dhar said: “I have always said that our team is a mixture of youth and experience. We have always groomed youngsters. And you need experience.”

On meeting Nepal in the final, Sajid said, “We are pretty confident of defending our title.”

Earlier, Nepal, which won the silver medal in the last edition, scored a convincing 4-0 victory over Sri Lanka in its last league engagement.

The results:

India 5 (Kamala Devi 6 & 37, Bala Devi 13 & 72, Sanju 71) bt Bangladesh 1 (Sabina Khatun 65).

Nepal 4 (A. S. Perera – own goal, Bhagwati Thapa 52 & 64, Sapna Lama 80) bt Sri Lanka 0.