Female footballer’s take on Nepal’s win

Nepal's football team celebrating a goal against Bangladesh on Monday. Photo: RSS

On Monday, Nepal clinched the Three Nations Cup by defeating Bangladesh with a score of 2-1, much to the delight of thousands of football enthusiasts, ending the national team’ goalless streak in international matches.

Nepal was held in goalless draws against Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh in the earlier rounds of the Three Nations Cup played amidst deteriorating air quality due to forest fires.

Nepal’s ‘Goal Machine’ Sabitra Bhandari ‘Samba’ admits that male football gets more media coverage and sponsorship than women players internationally. But she says in Nepal the discrepancy is jarring because Nepal’s female footballers have consistently out-performed their male colleagues.

Bhandari herself  has scored a phenomenal 38 international goals, the highest in South Asia. She says men’s football gets more financial support in Nepal despite her team’s performance in matches abroad.

Fans and even ANFA (All Nepal Football Association) officials were nervous about Nepal's performance in Monday’s final, given the team's apparent inability to score goals in international matches, as the dismal record of the last eight major games showed.

Indeed, the Nepal team only made it to the final because Bangladesh defeated Kyrgyzstan in its first match. Sanjog Rai and Bishal Rai sealed the victory in the final game after their first-half goals. Mahburur Rahman’s header goal in the late second half was insufficient for Bangladesh to defeat the home team.

Monday’s win was Nepal’s first major one after it defeated Bhutan in the finals of the 2019 South Asian Games with the same scoreline. It is also the team’s fifth international victory, the last one being the AFC Solidarity Cup in Malaysia where it beat Macau to lift the title in 2016.

'Goal Machine' Sabitra Bhandari 'Samba'

“Men’s football may be technically more demanding and the game physically more draining for the men, but Nepal should have scored 3 or 4 goals against Kyrgyzstan and at least 2 or 3 against Bangladesh,” says Bhandari about the previous matches in the three Nations Cup that she watched.

Home crowd support adds to the confidence of athletes but on the flip side, there is also a huge pressure to win, particularly during international matches. “Fans viewing the game can’t imagine the kind of pressure we go through trying to score a goal. But it is not all up to us, the ability of the opposing team also makes a huge difference,” she adds.

A team’s performance during international tournaments is also determined by the exposure they have received and the games they had the chance to play previously. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that much of the past year, the footballers had little to no practice or support.

Team effort and positive outlook become even more crucial under such circumstances, adds Bhandari who scored 31 goals in India's professional league and 41 goals in the recently concluded Women's National League.

“Every goal requires teamwork, positive thinking and an appetite for a win, Nepal did perform well in the end,” Bhandari adds.