SAFF Women’s Championship: India live up to favourites’ tag, make it three titles out of three

ISLAMABAD: India had sworn to defend their crown, one that had been their keepsake for the past two editions, and defend they did, with such sheer force that Nepal were defeated 6-0 in the final of the 2014 South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women’s Championship at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad on Friday.

Unlike the rest of the tournament, school and college students, along with diplomatic communities from India and Nepal, came to watch the all-important clash.

Kamla Devi scored the opening goal in the 27th minute of the match, backed by chants from the Pakistani crowd. And from thereon, India refused to give any leverage to their opponents, leaving Nepal at a loss as they closed play in their trademark winner’s style.

Top-scorer Baladevi finishes with 16                

It wasn’t just India’s story to tell though. The tournament’s top-scorer, 25-year-old Baladevi, did not disappoint as she went on to double the lead in the 39th minute and struck the back of the net once again three minutes later to give India a 3-0 lead at the interval.

In the 47th minute, Baladevi set up Premeshwori for the fourth. She brought up her hat-trick in the 51st before scoring her fourth in added time.

After the match the striker, who hails from Mannipur, described her experience in the host country and expressed jubilation over her individual performance.

“I loved Pakistan,” Baladevi, who took her tally to 16 goals, told. “It was great here. I liked everything about this tournament. I never thought that I would be able to perform like this. Becoming the leading scorer was never part of the plan, but now that it’s happened, I’m thrilled.”

Baladevi, a seasoned footballer, said she has been playing the sport since 2000 with a local club in India; however, it was her run with the national team that has been the most memorable time of her career so far.

Meanwhile, Indian coach Tarun Roy said making it a hat-trick of titles at the tournament was wonderful, while adding that it was Baladevi’s day. “She scored 16 goals and it’s a Saff record, so we are extremely proud of her,” said Roy.

Nepal in tears

Nepal, who had been itching to end India’s dominance in the Saff Championship, were left in tears after the match.

“It’s, well, what can we say,” said Nepal coach Darshan Bhaktar Raj Lawat in disappointment. “We tried. India’s first goal was off-side. However, I can only compliment them for an outstanding performance.”

Such were the emotions of the losing side that the Indian coach sportingly brought his team to console the distraught Nepal players.

At the closing ceremony, Asian Football Confederation President and the prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, along with Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) President Faisal Saleh Hayat gave away the winners’ trophy.

Big support for women’s football

FIFA instructor Monika Staab, who was present throughout the tournament, said she saw quite a bit of improvement in Pakistan football.

“You have the top officials coming to the closing ceremony here, it’s a big thing that they are supporting women’s football,” said Staab.

The German official said that women’s football in the country was progressing despite having only beginning in 2007.

“It is going in the right direction. None of the teams complained to me as far as the organisation was concerned. The PFF did their best to make the event as successful as possible,” said Staab.

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