Sr. Women's Football Nationals: Manipur And Haryana Set For Summit Clash

(MENAFN- IANS) Kolkata, May 14 (IANS) Eternal heavyweights Manipur and rising powerhouses Haryana will battle it out in the final of the Senior Women's National Football Championship for Rajmata Jijabai Trophy at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday.

The two sides have contrasting pedigree in women's football. While Manipur have been champions of 21 of the 27 editions of the Championship, Haryana have only made their second-ever final. And their first was just last year, when they went down to Tamil Nadu to end up as runners-up.

In the last few years, Haryana have emerged as a growing force in the women's game, with an increasing number of national team players both at the senior and youth level. And adding the fact that Haryana edged out Manipur 1-0 in Group B's last match to top the group, it feels difficult to choose a favourite for the final.

Manipur will head into the summit clash with redemption in their minds. Not just about their defeat four days ago, but also their poor showing in the last edition in Amritsar, where they shockingly exited in the group stage. Manipur have never gone trophyless in consecutive NFCs, and Haryana have never lifted the trophy, not even coming close until last year. So, whatever happens, Indian domestic women's football history will be created on the Kishore Bharati Krirangan pitch on Wednesday.

Manipur have been steamrolling opponents since the qualifying round in November, beating Rajasthan 15-0, Chhattisgarh 4-0 and Uttar Pradesh 8-0 to make the final round without breaking a drop of sweat. They had a smooth start in Kolkata too, decimating Jharkhand 7-0 and Sikkim 9-2 before putting three past both Maharashtra and Odisha.

However, the defeat to Haryana saw them slip to second place and meet Group A winners and defending champions Tamil Nadu in the semi-final. But the way Manipur regrouped and found their rhythm again was phenomenal as they outclassed the southerners in a comfortable 2-0 win with goals from 17-year-old Sibani Devi and 34-year-old Bala Devi. The latter has 17 goals to her name, only one behind Railways' Kamala Devi on 18, and will also have an eye on the golden boot.

By virtue of being last year's finalists, Haryana were allotted an automatic berth in the final round, which they began with a 1-1 draw with National Games gold-medallists Odisha. They followed that up with four consecutive clean-sheet victories over Jharkhand (2-0), Sikkim (5-0), Maharashtra (3-0) and Manipur (1-0).

The semifinal against hosts Bengal went down the wire, and after a goalless 120 minutes, goalkeeper Shreya Hooda's left palm and the woodwork helped Haryana go through to their second straight final.

With plenty of India international players on both sides, it promises to be a top-quality battle. Manipur boast of Dangmei Grace's pace down the wings, Shilky Devi's solidity in defence, Kritina Devi and Sibani Devi's youthful exuberance, and Roja Devi's presence in the final third, among others.

Haryana's biggest asset has been their defence. They've been the only team to render this free-scoring Manipur side goalless. The defensive trio of Ritu, Varshika and Sharda and custodian Shreya Hooda have let only one goal in 660 minutes. Up front, they are known to utilise width to their advantage, with the likes of Pooja, Neha and Rajni Bala pacing down the flanks and pumping in crosses. In Renu, they have a reliable striker, who is no stranger to scoring goals for the Indian senior team.



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