All roads lead to Tripureshwor’s Dashrath Stadium where thousands of Nepal faithful are expected to lend their support to the home side against Bangladesh in the SAFF Women’s Championship final on Monday. The match kicks off at 5pm.
Both the finalists go into the match in irresistible form, with each side having registered their maiden victory over five-times champions India along the way.
Bangladesh beat India 3-0 in the group stage, while the hosts edged their neighbours 1-0 in the semi-finals. Bangladesh have scored 20 goals across the group stage and semi-final, with Nepal finding the target 11 times. Neither side has conceded a goal.
Home team’s 1-0 semi-final win over India on Friday has sent expectations soaring amongst the Nepal faithful.
Nepal had reached the tournament final on four previous occasions, but they all ended in disappointment after losing to India.
Home team coach Kumar Thapa is confident of a Nepal victory in their fifth attempt, with the partisan crowd cheering them to a hilt. “We’ve come this far because of hard work and dedication we have put in over the past couple of months,” Nepal team coach Kumar Thapa told NepalMinute on the eve of the final.
“The cheering home fans will be our 12th player for this big game,” added Thapa, who is aiming to become the first Nepali coach to win the championship.
Nepal hold a psychological advantage over Bangladesh, having beaten them in all three previous meetings. They followed two semi-final victories - 3-0 in 2010 and 1-0 in 2014 - with a 3-0 win in the group stage in 2019.
Bangladesh are looking up to ace goalscorer Sabina Khatun to get over the final heartbreak they suffered at the hands of India in 2016.
Khatun currently leads the tournament’s goal-scoring list with eight goals. She scored a brace in their 3-0 opening victory over Maldives and hit a hat-trick in 6-0 win against Pakistan in the group stages and 8-0 against Bhutan in the semi-finals.
"I am very happy to have achieved our initial target - to reach the final," Khatun said at the post-match conference after their 8-0 semi-final victory over Bhutan on Friday.
Keeping a close eye
Bangladesh will also be boosted by the return of Shopna against Nepal. She limped off the field shortly after scoring a goal against Bhutan.
Nepal have been keeping a close eye on the Bangladeshi attackers, especially Khatun.
“She is a very good player but our defenders are capable of stopping her. We’re well prepared to face the Bangladeshi challenge,” coach Thapa said on the eve of the final.
The home team are sweating on the fitness of Sabitra Bhandari for the final after she was infected with dengue.
Bhandari, Nepal’s highest goalscorer in the tournament history with 19 goals, was absent from Nepal’s last two games. She sat out the match against Sri Lanka, but was on the bench in the semi-final against India on Friday.
“We are waiting on the results of Sabitra’s blood test,” said Thapa. “She has been training with the team and hasn’t complained about any discomfort. We will pick her for the final if she is medically cleared.” Apart from that Thapa is likely to name an unchanged line-up.
Bangladesh too are looking to lift the trophy after heartbreak in the 2016 final against India.
Bangladesh team coach Golam Rabbani Choton spiced things up ahead of Monday’s showdown, saying they would not be intimidated by the partisan crowd.
“Nepal team has a home advantage in the final. But my girls can cope with this kind of situation because we have played several time here," Choton said, concluding. "We shall give our best and create history."