Cheers from Changlimithang
Bangladesh girls added a new feather to their burgeon cap by winning the title of the inaugural SAFF U-18 Women's Championship following a 1-0 win over Nepal at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu yesterday.
Defender Masura Parvin snatched the decisive goal four minutes into the second half, cleverly heading home a long free-kick from midfielder Monika Chakma.
The all-conquering girls romped to the title with an all-win record, having scored 24 goals on the way and conceding just one. Striker Sirat Jahan Shopna became the top-scorer of the championship with eight goals.
Bangladesh went into the final as favourites having beaten Nepal 2-1 in group stages. However, the final turned out to be an even tougher contest as the Himalayan girls put up a valiant effort and fought the girls in red and green shoulder to shoulder.
Both teams were cautious in the first half and the tussle for midfield was far from decided, with chances were few and far between at either end.
Bangladesh, though, had a clear opening in the seventh minute when Krishna Rani Sarker raced onto a long-kick from goalkeeper Rupna Chakma, leaving the Nepal defence in her wake. However, with the goalkeeper halfway down the line, Krishna chipped her effort a bit too strongly and missed the target by some distance.
After a scrappy 45 minutes, the game burst into life early in the second half as both teams upped the ante, with the game stretching and chances flying in at both ends. And Bangladesh were the ones who took advantage of the end-to-end stuff, with Masura springing up as the unlikely scorer, cleverly heading in Monika's free-kick from just inside the danger zone, leaving Nepal goalkeeper Anjana Rana Magar haplessly out of position.
Nepal were unlucky not to get an equaliser just two minutes later when Rupna's fumble from a long cross deposited the ball right at the middle of the box, but a Nepal forward's bicycle kick came off the post, much to the relief of the Bangladesh team.
Although Bangladesh showed a lack of cutting edge in front of goal, with the tournament's top-scorer Sirat Jahan Shopna not her usual self after injury, they courageously held on to the slender lead till the final whistle, sending the team and the Bangladeshi supporters into massive celebration.
The victory will erase many a painful memory for Bangladesh football associated with this venue. The most humiliating defeat for the men's team had come at this very venue two years ago against Bhutan. And while the under-16 boys' team had registered a heroic comeback win against India here last year, they fell to a virtual title-deciding defeat against the Nepalese in the SAFF U-18 Championship last year at Bhutan's national stadium. And last but not the least, the girls' under-15 team suffered a shock defeat in the final of the SAFF Women's U-15 Championship to India at this venue just two months ago.