What little hope that Bangladesh had of emerging as Group A champions in the SAFF Women's Championship was shattered yesterday when they suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat to hosts Nepal in their final group match at the Sahid Rangsala in Biratnagar yesterday.
The drubbing showed that Nepal -- who have beaten Bangladesh five times in six matches -- are still beyond Bangladesh's reach at the senior level.
The youthful visitors had to be content with a second-place finish in the group behind the hosts and will next face Group B winners -- either India or Sri Lanka -- in the second semifinal on March 20.
Opting for a five-person defence, Bangladesh adopted a counter-attacking strategy and pressed the pacey Nepalese team only inside their half.
However, the match unfolded as a battle between girls and women as Nepal proved superior in terms of technique, physique, maturity and experience.
Bangladesh's game plan seemed to be working in the first five minutes as striker Sirat Jahan Swapna entered Nepalese territory twice but failed to do significant damage.
Nepal then exposed the Bangladesh defence with a counter-attack and their best striker, Sabitra Bhandari, coming close to breaking the deadlock. She rounded onrushing Bangladesh goalkeeper Rupna Chakma, but defender Nilufar Yesmin thwarted her attempt in the fifth minute.
Bangladesh conceded an own goal the next minute following a misunderstanding between defender Masura Parvin and Rupna. Masura rose high to head away Anita Basnet's long ball, but she only looped the ball over an onrushing Rupna and into her own goal.
Having gained a stranglehold on midfield, Nepal continued to expose Bangladesh's vulnerable defence time and again with Sheuli Azim failing to stop the imposing Sabitra, who displayed great speed, technique and positioning.
With Nepal's Dipa Rai, Renuka Nagarkote and Manjali Kumari releasing defence-splitting final passes, the striking duo of Niru Thapa and Sabirata -- who came into the match with 23 goals in 24 international matches -- wreaked havoc.
Although Bangladesh mustered sporadic attacks, they were all thwarted before Sabrita doubled the hosts' lead in the 23rd minute from inside the box after another mix-up between goalkeeper Rupna and Masura.
Sabitra was in the thick of things again as she brilliantly assisted Manjali Kumari. Instead of opting to go for goal herself after shrugging off Sheuli and entering the box, the 22-year-old Sabitra played the ball to Kumari, who slotted home from close range.
After resumption, Bangladesh replaced defender Nilufar with winger Sanjida Akhter but could only muster their first shot on target in the 63rd minute when Swapna's shot was gripped by Nepal goalkeeper Anjila Subba.
Bangladesh defender Masura was then forced into making two goalline saves, while Swapna came close to pulling one back as she rattled the crossbar in stoppage time.