KATHMANDU, Jan 25: Three Star wrapped up the first round of Martyrs Memorial Red Bull A Division Football League with a seven-point lead following a 1-0 win over arch rival Laxmi Hyundai Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) in its last league match at the Dasharath Stadium on Friday.
Against the run of play Santosh Sahukhala scored the decisive goal through penalty one minute before the interval. Three Star was awarded the penalty after Shiva Shrestha fouled Bijay Gurung in the danger zone.
The victory -- Three Star´s fourth over MMC in the league since 2060 BS -- helped the leader finish at the top of the table with 35 points from 15 matches making it a favorite for the title during the Super Eight round. Meanwhile, MMC missed the chance to go second and remained unchanged in the fifth place with 26 points following its third defeat in the league.
PHOTO: BIKASH KARKI
In the 12 meetings between Three Star and MMC in the league since 2060 BS, both the teams have won four matches each while four have ended in draws. The last time the two teams met was during the National League in Butwal when the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
"Three Star has advantage over other teams vying for the title because of its lead at the end of the first round," MMC coach Krishna Thapa opined during the post-match conference. Thapa, however, said his team was still in the title race as they are yet to play seven matches.
Three Star coach Pradip Humagain said the three points earned against arch rival MMC were like six points for his side. "The points we earned today are vital for the title and are like six points for us," opined Humagain. "We have advantage on the basis of points. However, I respect every team and every match is vital for us."
Three Star celebrates after the victory. (Photo: Bikash Karki)
The All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) is yet to fix the date for the second round, Super Eight, in which the top eight teams will play in round robin format. However, ANFA has said it would conduct the second round after the completion of Group D Qualifiers for AFC Challenge Cup to be held in Kathmandu from March 2-6. The points earned during the Super Eight round will be added to the first round total.
In the match attended by a huge crowd, MMC looked too strong for Three Star during the first half and dominated ball possession, making as many as four attempts on goal but failed to find the net. Three Star never looked dangerous before being awarded the penalty.
MMC was unfortunate not to find the net in the very second minute after Shiva Shrestha´s header in Nabin Neupane´s corner went out hitting the bar. In the 31st minute Three Star custodian Kiran Chemjong punched Sabindra Shrestha´s 25-yard freekick to safety.
In the 37th minute, Nirajan Malla´s back volley in skiper Anil Gurung´s header went straight to custodian Chemjong. Two minutes later, Chemong made a diving save to prevent Anil Gurung´s header. MMC failed to level the scores during the hour mark when Shiva Shrestha´s low header from a crowded box in Sabindra Shrestha´s corner sailed inches wide.
Three Star players, officials greet fans. (Photo: Bikash Karki)
Three Star made a couple of attempts on goal during the second half. In the 57th minute, MMC´s African goalie Emmanuel Dare made a finger-tip save to prevent Sahukhala´s feeble back volley. Two minutes before the final whistle Adewumi Femi´s brilliant header in Anil Ojha´s cross went wide.
MMC coach Thapa opined that his side failed to win despite putting up a good show while Three Star won despite a poor performance.
Audience queue up to enter stadium. (Photo: Bikash Karki)