POKHARA, Oct 30: Departmental team Armed Police Force (APF) stunned star-studded NIBL Friends Club 4-3 in the opener of the Safal Pokhara Cup Football Tournament at Pokhara Stadium in Kaski on Tuesday.
Friends Club, whose starting line-up boasted four Nepal internationals including skipper Sagar Thapa, conceded three goals after the interval after leveling the scores at 1-1 at the end of the first half. It was Friends´ second defeat against APF in a little over a month. Earlier, APF had defeated Friends 3-2 in the Ncell Cup Football Tournament in Kathmandu.
Arjun Subba, the second-half replacement for Milan Rai, struck twice for APF. Earlier, Ganesh Lawati had put the departmental team ahead in the 36th minute and Shyam Nepali added another. Jagjeet Shrestha achieved the target twice for Friends after missing a 55th minute penalty. Earlier, Ritesh Malla had scored the equalizer for Friends in the first half.
APF, which had crashed out to eventual champion Laxmi Hyundai Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) in tie-breaker in the quarterfinals of Ncell Cup, will meet the same opponent in the quarterfinal.
Ganesh Lawati had given Friends the lead after beating APF captain Sagar Thapa and an advancing goalkeeper Ganesh Chand. Ritesh Malla headed home the equalizer four minutes later in a pass from Prakash Budhathoki.
Arjun Subba restored the lead for the departmental team in the 47th minute, two minutes after his entry, in a rebound off goalie Chand. Shyam Nepali, who was later adjudged man-of-the-match, then made it 3-1 taking advantage of a Friends defensive lapse. Nepali beat defender Thapa and sent the ball past goalie Chand.
Subba scored his second and APF´s fourth goal beating defender Thapa and goalie Chand in a one-on-one position.
Jagjeet Shrestha who had earlier failed to convert a penalty in the 55th minute made up for it by cutting the deficit in the 89th and adding another in the fifth minute of injury time. But it was too little, too late for Friends and the Lalitpur-based side was forced to return home after the first match.
Earlier, Friends created frequent chances but failed to convert them. Jagjeet Shrestha´s penalty was denied by APF custodian Samit Rajbhandari after Shrestha was fouled by the custodian in the area. Santosh Tamang also failed to beat goalie Rajbhandari in a one-on-one position in the 20th minute in Bishnu KC´s pass. KC headed wide in the 23rd minute in Shrestha´s pass.
Unlike Friends, APF hardly threatened the opponent´s goal except for the goals scored.
APF coach Dilkaji Gurung said that his side was defeated as they failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities, including the penalty. He also attributed the defeat to the Dashain holidays and unavailability of training grounds in Pokhara. "Despite having a 70 percent ball possession luck did not favor us. The missed penalty was another setback for the team. Had the penalty been scored the story would have been different," said Gurung.
APF coach Janak Singh Tharu said that his team conceded a goal in the dying moments due to the player´s overconfidence. He also pointed out the need to improve their defense and midfield in the next match. "We had some weaknesses as it was the first match of the tournament. It is essential for us to improve in the next match," said Tharu.