Nepal’s late charge denies Blue Tigresses the victory

CHENNAI: An exciting second half show saw four goals, as India went into a two-goal lead, before Nepal made a late comeback to draw the match 2-2 in the first of two International Friendlies at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Wednesday, February 15, 2023.

Soumya Guguloth and Indumathi Kathiresan were the two goalscorers for India, while Sabitra Bhandari netted a-last minute penalty to pull one back for Nepal, before levelling the scores in injury time.

Nepal has been somewhat of a bogey side for India in their last couple of encounters in both senior and junior matches. While that may create some doubts in the minds of the supporters, the Blue Tigresses began the better of the two sides, with no less thanks to striker Bala Devi, who hovered across the Nepal back-line, constantly harrowing their defenders.

It was Bala, within the first five minutes, who found Sandhiya Ranganathan with a through ball; the latter was caught in two minds whether to cross or shoot, and ended up doing neither as her effort went past the upright.

India suffered an early blow, however, as keeper Aditi Chauhan sustained an injury while making a save off a Rashmi Ghising shot in the 10th minute. She soon had to be replaced by Panthoi Chanu.

There was a brief moment of lull after the quarter hour mark, before Bala started to look dangerous again. A deflected shot was collected by Nepal keeper just minutes ahead of the half hour mark, before the 33-year-old managed to make her way past the back line and attempted to dribble past the keeper, but Nepal defender Gita Rana wrestled the ball off her feet.

As the teams went into the dressing room with the scores level at half-time, India head coach Thomas Dennerby decided to ring in the changes, bringing on Manisha Kalyan, Soumya Guguloth, and Sangita Basfore in place of Sandhiya Ranganathan, Dangmei Grace, and Anju Tamang, respectively.

These substitutions had an instant impact as Manisha looked to make darting runs down the left, isolating Nepal right back BK Bimala in the process. However, she could not find an Indian foot or head with her cut-backs from the left.

Bala soon had a golden opportunity to score, when she played a one-two with Indumathi, who set her through on goal. However, Nepal goalkeeper and captain Anjila Subba made a terrific save to keep the scores level.

With just four minutes left before the hour mark, Manisha finally found a teammate at the end of her cross, and that did the trick for India. The nimble winger, who was only looking to cut-back low crosses from the by-line thus far, decided to hang one in the air across the face of the goal this time. Bala, hungry to get her name on the scoresheet, gave an almighty leap, but missed; however, substitute Soumya Guguloth crept in unmarked from the far side and slapped the ball into the ground, as it bounced over the keeper’s head and went in.

It was a moment of pure joy and emotion for the crowd in Chennai in the 68th minute, when two local girls combined to score India’s second goal. Karthika Angamuthu dinked the ball over the Nepal defenders’ head, as it was chested down by Indumathi, who calmly slotted it home.

Bala Devi had done all but score in her return to international football in a gap mired by injuries and a pandemic and was warmly appreciated by the crowd as she was replaced by Renu with less than 15 minutes of regulation time left.

As the clock wore down, Nepal looked to put more balls into the Indian box, but the defensive pairing of Sweety Devi and Manisa Panna shepherded the flock.

Disaster struck when Nepal were awarded a penalty in the 90th minute, which was converted by Bhandari, who levelled the scores two minutes later when she found some space inside the India box and slotted it past Panthoi to make it 2-2.

Also Read: Hat-trick of substitutes as India run riot against Bhutan

Also Read: Didn’t know what a passport was till my first India call-up: Sunita Munda

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