KATHMANDU, Oct 11: Laxmi Hyundai Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) set up a final showdown with McDowell´s Ranipokhari Corner Team (RCT) in the Ncell Cup Football Championship after a 3-1 win over arch rival Nepal Police Club in the additional time of a controversial semifinal at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu on Thursday.
In the dramatic semifinal, MMC scored the equalizer through penalty four minutes before the end of regular time and second-half replacement Sulav Maskey netted the second goal in the additional half hour and set up the third goal to put the match beyond RCT´s reach.
Police coach Birat Krishna Shrestha was furious with referee Sudish Pandey´s decision and blamed poor judgment for ´sinking´ the departmental team. Shrestha, whose side suffered its first defeat of the season, claimed that the departmental team became the victim of wrong referee judgment. The defeat ended Police´s unbeaten run in its ninth match of the season.
The otherwise soft-spoken Shrestha was aggressive at the post-match conference on Thursday. "You can see the replay, it was not a penalty but a dive and there was no ball contact by Nirajan Malla," claimed Shrestha.
MMC players celebrate goal. (Photo: Bikash Karki)
The penalty was awarded after MMC forward Malla fell down in the area while vying with defender Suman Subedi in a scuffle. Referee Pandey awarded the penalty and defender Sabindra Shrestha did not make any mistake in converting it as the regulation time ended 1-1.
An unmarked Sulav Maskey, who replaced Amir Shrestha in the 64th minute, netted the second goal with a brilliant finish from a tight angle in a cross from Sujal Shrestha. Police player Bharat Shah picked a head injury and collapsed on the ground, but play continued. Shah was later rushed to the hospital with a bleeding head.
"Where had the fair play gone? The referee had clearly seen Shah lying injured on the ground and the goal came in the same move, but why did the referee not stop play," Shrestha vented his ire. "My players had left the ball after Shah was injured. Why did the referee hesitate to perform his duty," questioned Shrestha.
Sujal Shrestha scored into an unattended net to seal the victory for MMC one minute before the end of additional time. Maskey had passed the ball to Shrestha in a rebound off goalie Ritesh Thapa after a one-on-one with Ram Thapa.
Earlier, Nepali international forward Jumanu Rai who missed a couple of easy scoring chances had put the departmental team ahead 30 seconds into the second half. Rai scored taking advantage of a mistake by MMC´s African custodian Aqbolade Emmanuel Dare.
Rai hit wide in the 72nd minute after beating custodian Dare in a one-on-one position. Rai missed another chance to level the scores in the 106th minute as he fired high above the bar from a close range.
MMC coach Krishna Thapa, who has not faced defeat after taking charge of the club for the first time in his career, termed Rai´s misses unfortunate. "It was unfortunate for a star striker like Rai to miss such opportunities twice," said Thapa, who is also the coach of the Nepali national team.
Thapa also opined that luck favored his team. "The boys put in great deal of effort, team spirit and patience. I had asked them to play better football and not to worry about any outcome and they did as briefed," Thapa said. "It is the best performance in five matches by the team since I took charge."
Regarding the referee´s decision, Thapa said the referee did not deliberately give his judgment. "It is natural for the losing side to complain about the referee´s decision," Thapa said.
Thapa´s counterpart Sherstha said that his side failed to hold the ball during the last 10 minutes and played the ball in the defense area which backfired for the team.