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Nepal and India will clash each other in the final of the Men’s and women’s Football of the 12th South Asian Games. In the Men’s 2nd Semi final played at Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday evening Nepal overcame a spirited Maldives team by a margin of 4-3. The match was extended for extra time as the two teams locked at 2-2 in the 90 minutes of play. In the first half of the extra time Maldives’ Ahmed Visam scored the third goal for his country at 114th minutes. Nepal’s Nawayug Shrestha scored the equalizer in 117th minutes, his second goal of the match. He netted the winning goal for his country in the extra time by smashing a hat trick at the dying moments of the play.

Earlier, India U-23 registered a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Bangladesh to breeze into the Final of Men’s Football Championship in the 12th South Asian Games in Guwahati. For India Udanta Singh scored the first goal in the 22nd minute of the first half. Mawihmingthanga consolidated the lead to 2- 0 with a right shooter from outside the penalty box of the opponents 5 minutes before the half time. Though Bangladesh made some intelligent moves, but they were unsuccessful.

In the second half Indians dominated the field and Jayesh Rane sealed the fate of the Bangladeshis in the 65th minute by scoring the third goal.

In the women’s event India defeated Bangladesh by a margin of five goals to one. And Nepal beat Sri Lanka four nil.

Never did she dream of donning the blue colours for India, nor did she aim for a ticket to Rio Olympics. But, she has got it all, thanks to her speed, strength, agility and endurance that made her part of the Indian gold medallist kho-kho team in the 12th South Asian Games.

The yellow metal hung around her neck has turned a shy teenage village girl from Tengakhat in Assam’s Dibrugarh district, Supriya Gogoi, into a darling of the nation; her life changed overnight to stardom.

The 19-year-old Bachelor’s degree student of Tengakhat College in Dibrugarh district has become a mainstay of the Indian squad, which has already qualified for the Rio Olympics, scheduled for August 2016, with her impressive show in her first international meet at the Tepesia Sports Complex in Guwahati.

“This was her maiden international event. She has tremendous talent which our selectors recognised in a three-week camp at Gandhinagar (Gujarat) in January and picked her for another camp in Guwahati,” senior vice-president of the Kho-Kho Federation of India Rajib Prakash Baruah, who is also the president of Assam Kho-kho Association, said.

“The victory in the Games is surely going to boost her confidence which is vital ahead of the Rio trip. Moreover, she is going to be an inspiration for many a hidden talents in the state which is important for the development of any sport,” Baruah added.

The eldest daughter of Rudreswar and Amiya Gogoi, Supriya, who has three siblings, comes from a humble background.

“I have been playing the game in my school since Class V. I continued playing it even in my college because I love the sport. But, I used to play it always as an amateur. I came through the professional aspects in the game only when I got picked up for the national team this time and I can see the trainings and coaching can take me to the next level,” she said when contacted over phone.

“I am very happy with my as well as the team’s performance in the South Asian Games and now we will eye the Asian title,” Supriya added. The Asian Championship, which will also be a dress rehearsal for the Olympics, is going to be held at Indore in April.

Not only has Supriya’s professional and social life been changed by the medal, but also here economic condition is going to change if the Assam government fulfills its announcement by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi of Rs 10 lakh cash reward each for players from Assam bagging gold medal in the Games.

Besides, the medal will also ensure her preference in securing a government or corporate sector job for herself in the near future. Hailing from an economically backward family, the financial incentive and a job are bound to change her life a full circle.

Unlike legendary pugilist MC Mary Kom and tennis star Sania Mirza, who are still going strong after tying the nuptial knot, the determination to become stronger is in India's star woman footballer Oinam Bembem Devi too. However, the 35-year-old Manipur woman has decided to shut the door on marriage and devote her life to develop sports, particularly women's football, in India.

The current team captain will hung up the boots from international football after the 12th South Asian Games after playing for India for over two decades.

"I have been playing football for 21 years and this is the right time for me to retire after the 12th South Asian Games," Bembem said in Shillong.

Bembem, who ruled out immediate marriage plans even after retiring from football, will embark on another mission. "My new journey will be to groom young Indian footballers, especially to develop women's football in the country," she said.

"I eat, sleep and drink football," said the footballer who made her international debut against Guam in the Asian Women's Championships as a 15-year-old.

Bembem, who was named twice as AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year, in 2001 and 2013, also wishes to see more women's football tournaments in the country, including introduction of an I-League for women.

"I think women's football in India has the potential to grow. After retirement, I will devote my time to train junior footballers in Manipur so that they can represent the country in national and international levels," said the midfielder who has made 18 appearances for India and scored 11 goals in internationals.

Bembem is hopeful on development of women's football in India as she feels there has been some improvement after the AIFF-FIFA grassroots programme was launched in the country.

She feels the grassroots programme for women is also strong in her state Manipur and in many districts, young boys and girls are being trained for the under-13 and under-14 teams.

Bembem, who played for Maldivian football club New Radiant in 2014, led the Indian women's team as skipper to title in the 11th South Asian Games in Bangladesh in 2010 and the 2012 SAFF Women's Championship in Sri Lanka in 2012.

Team mates are often very close, but the members of the Nepal women's table tennis team have a truly special connection.

Sisters Elina Maharjan and Erika Maharjan and their sister-in-law Nabita Shrestha were part of Nepal's contingent at the South Asian Games, with Elina and Nabita coming away with a bronze in the women's doubles.

Nineteen-year-old Erika did not get a chance to play, but Elina and Nabita, Nepal's two strongest female paddlers, were in action throughout the singles, doubles, mixed doubles and team events with Erika always present, cheering them on.

With so much time spent away from home representing their country, having family close to you is a great thing, according to the sister act.

"We actually don't get that much time to play with family, but having them around allows you to feel free and lessens the pressure," Nabita said, while Elina chipped in, "You can enjoy the moment and it is a big support."

Not only do the three live in the same house, but they also attended the same schools and college. In fact, they are all pursuing business degrees - Nabita, the oldest at 23, is studying for her MBA, while Elina (21) is doing her BBA. Erika, meanwhile, is in her second year of a Bachelor in Business Studies.

"As we said, it's a way of supporting each other," Nabita, who is married to the brother of Elina and Erika, quipped while the others laughed.

Asked if there were any interests they do not share, the paddlers struggled to think before Elina said, "It's somehow all similar."

Nabita has been representing Nepal in table tennis for the last eight years, while it has been seven for Elina and four for young Erika.

They trained hard for seven to eight hours a day in the three weeks leading up to SAG 2016, but come away with mixed feelings about the results.

"We hoped for a lot, but got this much (bronze) only. We hoped a lot for the team event but unfortunately it didn't go our way," Nabita said. "I am happy, but not satisfied," she added.

The paddlers now have only a little time to rest, as Nepal will be taking part in the World Team Table Tennis Championships, which begin at the end of the month.

The South Asian Games is strategic to all the countries in South Asia.

In discussion with Dr. Yonus Poplazay, an enthusiastic personality who is passionate about developing sports in Afghanistan and a man with many hats namely, Secretary General National Olympic Committee-Afghnaistan, President of the Afghanistan Volleyball Federation and Chairman, Medical Commission of the Asian Volleyball Federation.

SAG Reporter: Your thoughts on the South Asian Games?

Dr. Yonus: The South Asian Games is strategic to all the countries in South Asia and is a dynamic event which brings together sportspersons from 23 different sports. These Games are symbol of regional unity and the IOA, Government of India and Organising Committee have been successful in bringing everyone together.

The Games also enable interaction between the youth of the participating nations and bringing positive change as sport transcends all differences. Afghanistan is currently suffering from terrorism and the participation of our contingent is a big step for the nation, the NOC, athletes, coaches and managers. The contingent is not here just to win medals but to convey through its participation the message of peace.

These Games have also further strengthened the strategic friendship and long term association of India and Afghanistan. The participation at the South Asian Games 2016 has inspired the Afghanistan NOC to conduct its first ever National Games in the country. We are thankful to the IOA, Government of India and Organising Committee for all the support extended. This also showcases the commitment of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to the Aghan nation and our participation would not have been possible here without his support.

SAG Reporter: You had just mentioned that these Games have made a significant impact to the sports in your country.

Dr. Yonus: Yes, this is the biggest delegation of sports persons to any sporting event. In the Asian Games 2014 we had about 150 people compared to a contingent over 200 people participating in SAG 2016. This time we also have a huge number of women athletes and coaches which is historic. This is also true for Pakistan and this signifies the positive sign in Muslim culture through the empowerment of women in sports.

Through the campaign of these South Asian Games in Afghanistan, now the people in our country not only know New Delhi and Mumbai in India but also Guwahati (Assam) and Shillong (Meghalaya). This proves that other cities too can successfully host Games of this stature and has showcased the warmth of the local people and hospitality extended by them.

SAG Reporter: Can you please share with us about your interaction with the athletes of your contingent?

Dr. Yonus: I spent some time with our Weightlifting team today and they put up a very good performance. I am very happy even though we didn’t win any medals as this exposure has enabled the team to set new targets and improve their sporting performance.

Also, our Table Tennis team in collaboration with Table Tennis Federation of India will undergo a 2-3 days training camp. We are very happy with support extended to the Afghan team to train here under India’s national coach, who will enable the team to upgrade their skills and performance.

Our contingent here has many athletes who are taking part in their first ever International sporting event, so these Games provide great exposure and interaction to the young athletes to learn from their South Asian counterparts and increase their knowledge.

SAG Reporter: You arrived in Guwahati yesterday; can you share your first impressions?

Dr. Yonus: I have been very impressed with the hospitality extended by the Organsing Committee and everything is very well managed especially the security arrangements. This is a very critical area and a very high level of security protection is being extended to us which gives more comfort to the athletes and they are able to focus on their sport.

SAG Reporter: A few last words please.

Dr. Yonus: I am hoping that the next few days will see a high level of competition and our contingent will have a rich learning experience to take home. Thank you.

There has been enough of political diplomacy over the years between India and Pakistan, now is the turn sporting diplomacy. This is what Pakistan hockey team manager and a veteran hockey organiser of the neighbouring nation Miah Parvez Bhandara feels when it comes to a question on Indo-Pak sporting relationship.

When one witnesses the semblance of a war like scene be it along the border in the Kashmir Valley or even around the stadiums hosting India-Pakistan sporting events, which are fortified, the sportspersons from across the border feel it suffocating at times because they are here to share love and harmony among two nations who share the same culture and tradition.

“We are here to share love and, thus, to bridge the divide between two nations who differ in no way. We share the same food habits, social system, marriage tradition and even speak the same language. We hardly differ in any of our culture, then why this divide in sports?” Bhandara said.

“I am not aware what our Indian counterparts think, but we in the Punjab Province of Pakistan are even trying to revive the heritage Punjab State Games. I have personally take the initiative of taking it up with the Punjab provincial government and they are taking steps in this regard,” Bhandara, who is also the president of Punjab Hockey Association, said after the India-Pakistan men’s hockey match at Moulana Mohd Tayabullah Hockey Stadium in Guwahati on Monday evening.

The Punjab State Games used to be a historic annual event involving the two Punjab provinces on both sides of the international border which remained suspended following strained relationship between the two countries for some time.

Hockey is mainly concentrated in the Punjab province in Pakistan and Bhandara has been relentlessly working for the development of the sport in the Indian sub-continent.

“India and Pakistan happened to be hockey super powers at one time. Now we are 10th and India seventh. The Europeans are dominating the sport in which we have a heritage. The need of the time is to unite ourselves and improve the standard of hockey in the two countries by playing among ourselves. The more we play among ourselves, the more will we improve,” Bhandara said.

“Unlike what is being portrayed as far as India-Pak sporting relations are concerned, the atmosphere here is quite opposite. It’s so friendly and sporting. If this is the ground reality, why should we be waiting to further strengthen our sporting ties?” he remarked.

The much hyped hockey match on Monday evening drew a packed stadium including Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Indian sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal along with a host of dignitaries.

Echoing the same Sentiments, at another location in Guwahati, Pakistani Squash player Sadia Gul expressed her delight to be in India and on a very positive note she said, "There is so much of resemblance between the people of India and Pakistan!! The two countries should keep playing with each other".

Hundreds of miles away from home, the Nepalese women’s football team found it a home away from home when they locked horns with Maldives in the 12th South Asian Games at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong on Sunday.

Yes, it was a Sunday crowd, and mostly Gorkha community enthusiasts, in the Manchester of the East that created an atmosphere where the neighbouring Himalayan Kingdom’s women could hardly feel that they were playing abroad.

The stadium is located in a locality which is surrounded mostly by Gorkha community habitats. The community constitutes about 30,000 people, including those who are in Services, in Shillong.

Thanks to a huge Gorkha population in the hill station city, that turned up to cheer up their “own team”, the Nepal women enjoyed the virtual home advantage to celebrate the 2-0 victory in an afternoon encounter.

B. Gurung, who came all the way from Nepal, waved the Nepal fl ag rejoicing the victory on the road outside the stadium and hoped his country would qualify for the fi nal. Personnel of the Shillong-based Gorkha Regiment also turned up in large numbers to witness the match that saw Nepal dominate throughout.

Nepal will meet hosts India in the next match on February 11, and coach Dhruba Bahadur was confi dent of another win.

Elsewhere in Guwahati, the spirit of Nepal women’s hockey team was the most sporting one despite a 24-0 drubbing by their Indian counterparts at Moullana Md Tayebulla Hockey Stadium the same afternoon.

The women in maroon rejoiced even in distress; an attitude that signifi es sportsmanship. It was their fi rst ever international match which they used to send a message of courage and sportsmanship back home.

“The loss doesn’t matter. Our girls mustering the courage to take the fi eld against one of the strongest teams, India, is all what matters. After the earthquake, our people have very little to rejoice in and our girls playing in international hockey is a good reason to do so,” coach Rajendra Pathak said after the match.

The coach even added a hint of humour to the defeat. “We have actually won by one goal. We were expecting India to pump in at least 25 goals against us, but we managed to save one,” Pathak said.

For the Himalayan country, which is still recovering from the devastation of the 8.1-magnitude earthquake of April 2015, the way to the South Asian Games 2016 was not easy as many of the players hailed from the quake-aff ected areas and their training stadiums were damaged beyond repairs.

“Our best hockey facility is the Tripureswar Stadium in Kathmandu which the earthquake devastated. There are cracks in the turf and the girls used to train in small patches between the cracks,” said the coach, adding: “It is their (players’) dedication that has brought us here.”