By Joseph Solomon,
AIFF Media Team
JABALPUR: Railways were crowned Champions of the 21st Senior Women’s National Football Championship for the first time, as they defeated Manipur 4-3 in penalties, after the added extra time score-line read 3-3, here in Jabalpur on January 15, 2016.
Although Railways played catch-up throughout the course of the 120 minutes, the spirited and inspired performance showcased by them finally paid dividends, as they became the fourth Team to be crowned Champions of the National Football Championship after Odisha, West Bengal and their opponents, Manipur.
However, it was Manipur, who started to attack from the opening minutes of the match, as Railways adopted a defensive stance and reverted with counters. In the 3rd minute, Manipur were awarded a corner kick, which gradually fell into Bala Devi’s stride. The AIFF Player of the Year in an attempt to outfox the Railways defence line lost her footing, and Railways cleared the danger away.
Shortly after, Railways counter-attacked with Sasmita Malik on the left flank. But the sprightly winger failed to deliver a pin-point cross, as Kamala Devi was left reeling for it in the 18 yard box.
In the 18th minute, Panthoi Chanu made a finger touch save to deny Railways the lead from a direct Kamala Devi free-kick. Two minutes later however, it were Manipur who made their opponents pay for being complacent in defending as Bala Devi tapped home a Prameshwori Devi cross to make it 1-0 for Manipur.
Manipur’s lead however was short-lived as Railways equalized in the 22nd minute, courtesy of an Ashalata Devi penalty kick.
With the match erupting into an end of end affair, both contingents fostered numerous chances. And in the 41st minute, Grace coolly slotted her chance past an onrushing Swarnamayee Samal to make it 2-1 for Manipur.
It was dejavu perhaps, as Railways, in the 44th minute, equalized their deficit through Sasmita Malik, as the Teams went into the tunnel on level pegging with the score-line reflecting 2-2.
Changing over and both Teams entwined in a battle for possession as the game got stretched, with neither side able to foster a clear goal scoring opportunity.
In the 64th minute, Grace latched onto a cinematic back-heel flick by Bala Devi and exploited the vacant left flank. However, Grace’s shot failed to test the Railway custodian of her credentials and the attack went abegging.
Three minutes later, it was Railways’ turn to test Panthoi’s credentials. The Manipuri custodian, however, stood firm and denied a venomous Kamala Devi shot with a strong right hand.
With neither Team able to penetrate each other’s defences with success, the match once again boiled down to the middle of the park wherein the Teams indulged in a battle for possession.
In the 85th minute, Manipur were awarded an opportunity to take the lead as Bala Devi was found clear of the mix in the 18 yard box by a Prameshwori Devi cross. Bala however, failed to head the ball home with the goal at her mercy.
The full-time scoreline read 2-2 as the game went into Added Extra Time. Three minutes into extra time and Bala Devi was again offered an opportunity to give Manipur the lead, but Bala shot it whiskers wide of the goal after latching onto a Grace through ball.
The break-through for Manipur came in the 100th minute. It was the iconic figure of Bembem Devi, who gave Manipur the lead, as her shot from 20 yards found its way into the back of the net making the score-line 3-2 in Manipur’s favour.
Railways tried to gain dividends for their inspired performance but the Manipuri defence stood strong to see off the game, with custodian Panthoi Chanu putting in a decent shift to thwart Railways’ shots on goal.
Bembem Devi found the net again in the 113rd minute, but the referee waved her offside. In the 116th minute, Railways finally grabbed their dividends as Bijeta Devi scored to make it 3-3.
With virtually the last action of the match, Manipur were left reeling as an exquisite Bala Devi chip hit the woodwork and went out as the full-time scoreline, after extra time, read 3-3.
The match went into penalties, wherein Railways emerged eventual winners as they piped Manipur 4-3 in the shoot-out.
Posted on : Friday January 15, 2016