Manipur beat defending champions Orissa 3-1 in the final to win the 20th women’s National Football Championship, at the Golaghat stadium in Assam, on Monday.
Goals at the start of each half from Bala Devi and one from iconic India player Oinam Bembem Devi gave Manipur a 3-0 lead before substitute Sakina Nesa’s close-range shot in the dying minutes of the match reduced the margin for Orissa.
The north-eastern state, which last won the crown in 2010, emerged triumphant for the 17th time in the championship.
An elated Bembem, who captained the side, told moments after the final whistle that though the victory appears facile, the young Orissa girls, mostly in the under-19 age group and playing for the first time, showed verve and a lot of promise.
“It was a good win. I am really happy to end a fairly good campaign on a high. But, more importantly, I would like to point out that the future stars who played in Orissa colours today have a lot of potential.”
It took the 16-time champions just three minutes to take the lead.
Orissa goalkeeper Sita Sharma failed to judge the flight of the ball from Bembem Devi’s cross from the right and Bala pounced on the chance to head home from close.
Such was Bala’s confidence that soon after her 31st goal of the campaign, the player of the tournament tried a cheeky dink on the half volley but the ball landed on the roof of the net.
The red shirts doubled their tally without fuss. A low cross inside the area by winger Mandakini Devi saw Bembem stab home with an expertly placed first-time finish. The match was 20 minutes old and Orissa, who had stormed into the final much like their opponents, were at sixes and sevens.
Manipur went into the beak with a 2-0 lead.
The second half started like the first, with Manipur all over Orissa’s citadel.
Following one such move, Mandakini, enjoying a field day at office, squared for Bala inside the area, leaving the 23-year old goal-poacher with the easiest of tap-ins to notch her brace and 32nd goal of the tournament.
Orissa, though, showed great character as they still searched for the elusive goal. Their doggedness paid dividends in injury time as substitute Sakina slammed home Subha Prava Rout’s through ball that sliced open the Manipur defense.
From the next move, the white shirts almost scored again, but Subha Prava missed a gilt-edged chance from six yards.