Prime Minister Cup: Nepal 'Red' Clinched the Cup

KATHMANDU, March 14: Nepal (Red) won the Prime Minister´s Cup beating Sri Lanka 4-2 in tie-breakers after a goalless draw in an epic final at the Dasharath Stadium on Saturday. Nepal, playing less than 22 hours after the 2-0 semifinal victory over JB Thailand on Friday, looked every bit tired in the first half but dominated the second half which convinced the Lankans that Nepal could not be beaten in normal play. Lankan coach Sampath Perera vociferously appealed for a direct shootout after the normal time as if the Lankans had to just turn up to win the tiebreakers but when the shootout eventually came after 30 minutes of added extra time, it was Nepal which emerged runaway winner.

Lankan goalie HM Kumara gave Nepal a scare getting his hands to Anil Gurung´s shot that eventually powered into the top right corner of the net as Nepal took the first shot. But Sandeep Rai, Biraj Maharjan and Raju Tamang were clinical in the following shots to limit Kumara as a mere spectator. Lankan skipper Chaturn Maduranga and Kasun Jayasooriya also coolly converted the first two shots but EB Chanua and Sanjay Pradeep Kumara hit over the bar to hand Nepal a deserving victory to the delight of more than 25,000 Nepali fans.

Sri Lanka started the match in a dominant fashion as the tired Nepali players looked out of sorts in absence of talismanic striker Jumanu Rai who had taken an elbow on chest during the semifinal victory Friday. The over-exuberant Lankans seemed to be getting carried away with their dominance and frequently confronted referee Gyanu Raja Shrestha who obliged by dishing out yellow cards in his signature style. Nepali linesmen Binod KC and Sailesh Joshi looked a little biased toward Nepal even as the Lankans felt that the whole world was against them with the sea of Nepali fans, who were a little undisciplined at times hurling missiles at the Lankans, backing their heroes in the ground.

But once Jumanu stepped in for the off-color Nirajan Rayamajhi two minutes before the end of the first half, the complexion of the match changed and Nepali players found a definite spring in their steps. Jumanu, himself, tested the Lankan keepers twice with powerful shots in the second half while Anil Gurung and Khum Gurung also had decent attempts on target, with the latter´s coming seconds before the end of regulation time.

Nepal also dominated the added extra time but could not find the much-needed goal as the Lankans got the shootout they wanted half an hour earlier. Cocky Lankan coach Perera even pumped his fists after the end of the extra time as if Lankan victory was a foregone conclusion but Chanua and Kumara embarrassed him.

Minister for Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara handed the cup to the winning side. The crowd, which invaded the ground, cheered the Nepali team as it received the cup and gold medals. The Sri Lanka team members also received a silver medal each.

Captain of the victorious Nepali side Rakesh Shrestha said that this was a victory for Nepali football. “Nepali fans and players were disappointed because of interruption in football. I am glad to see the parfait full after so many years. Nepali football should not be interrupted. We dedicate this win to our supporters," said Shrestha.

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