POKHARA, Nov 1: A rejuvenated Machhindra Club stunned national champion Nepal Police Club 2-1 on Thursday to book its berth in the quarterfinals of the Safal Pokhara Cup Football Tournament underway in Pokhara.
Skipper Deepak Rai and Karna Limbu scored in either half for Machhindra which had struggled to avoid relegation last season. Dilip Rai pulled one back for Police in the second half but the departmental giant crashed out from the very first match as its efforts to find the equalizer went in vain.
Machhindra will now lock horns with a Kolkata-based team on Monday.
Deepak Rai, who was adjudged the man-of-the-match, put Machhindra ahead in the 22nd minute through a penalty awarded after Lil Bahadur Rai fouled Gurung inside the area.
Karna Limbu doubled the advantage for Machhindra in the 59th minute beating custodian Ritesh Thapa after receiving a pass from Saurav Magar.
Police, which was without some of its key players including skipper and forward Jumanu Rai, winger Bhola Silwal, defender Suman Subedi and Roshan Karki after they picked injuries in the Ncell Cup held a month ago in Kathmandu, cut the goal deficit in the 66th minute. Dilip Rai of Police found the target in a cross from Deependra Paudel which was flicked by Yogesh Shrestha before Rai collected it. Pradip Baniya missed a chance to level the scores in the 89th minute after he was set up by Ramesh Katuwal.
Police coach Hari Khadka attributed the defeat to the absence of four players of his squad. "Due to the absence of four key players the team could not play its natural game," said Khadka, adding that the four injured players are yet to recover fully.
Machhindra also squandered some scoring chances. In the 15th minute Suraj BK cleared Karna Limbu´s powerful strike from the goalline. Nine minutes later Police goalie Ritesh Thapa punched Laxmi Narayan Shrestha´s powerful strike to safety. In the 50th minute, Deepak Rai fired inches wide above the bar after beating the goalie.
In the eight-minute injury time, Subham Shrestha and Anil Dhimal each wasted an opportunity. Dhimal´s shot hit the frame of the goal.
Machhindra coach Raju Shakya said the players were exhausted as they were playing their first match after the Dashain vacation. "It takes time for a team to set in the first match and they also looked tired," said Shakya, who recently took over the club after resigning from New Road Team (NRT) during Dashain.
Ranipokhari Corner Team (RCT) will play against Yeti Airlines Himalayan Sherpa Club on Friday.