Shillong: Nepal booked their place in the final of the 12th South Asian Games women’s football event after holding defending champions India to a goalless draw at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday.
Nepal are at the top of the table with seven points while India are placed third. They had beaten Bangladesh 2-0 and the Maldives 3-0 in their previous encounters.
India started their campaign with a goalless draw against the Maldives and handed a 5-0 thrashing to Sri Lanka next.
The hosts were looking for three points on Thursday but had to be contended with one point after Nepal showed grit.
India’s key forward Grace Dangmei, who was star against Sri Lanka, picked up a serious injury 38th minute before being replaced by an impressive Bala Devi who was in the thick of action especially in the second half.
The Nepalese footballers, drawn mostly from their armed force, could have opened their account in the 20th minute when Sabitra Bhandari headed a ball that was saved by India’s goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan.
Three minutes later after the start of the second half, Nepal’s Niru Thapa’s free kick nearly found the top of net but an acrobatic Chauhan was able to make an excellent save.
The home team’s striker Bala Devi could have given them the lead in the 52nd minute, but her strong shot sailed over the bar.
Nepal responded in the 74th minute with captain skipper Anu Lama’s header raising a scare whn it hit the post.
India had a chance at the fag end of the match, in the 90th minute, when Pyari Xaxa failed to convert a cross from her team-mate Sasmita Devi.
“Unlucky for us and we have to win our next match against Bangladesh to ensure our berth for the finals,” India coach Sajid Yusuf Dhar said at a post match conference.
Dhar said Nepal were always going to be a tough opponent but now they can only look forward to winning against Bangladesh on February 13. The outcome of the match will decide which country faces Nepal in the final.
“We could have scored on many occasions but Nepal defended well,” Dhar added.
Nepal’s coach Dhruba Bahadur said his girls changed to a defensive mode in the second half which allowed them a point and subsequently, an entry into the title round.
“India played well. This was our first drawn match but we are happy to make it through to the final,” Bahadur said.