Sports

Nepal set eyes on semi-finals

- HIMESH RATNA BAJRACHARYA

 

Buoyed by the 4-0 drubbing of Bhutan, Nepal are taking on hosts Bangladesh in their final and crucial league match of the Saff Championship with all four teams from Group ‘A’ still in the contention for the semi-finals.

Nepal will be raring to go for a victory at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka but against the hosts who are high on confidence following back-to-back victories, the team will have a lot of work to do. With only final league games remaining, none of the teams in Group ‘A’ are yet confirmed of their progress or elimination as minnows Bhutan can still make it through despite suffering two consecutive defeats.

Bangladesh, who defeated Bhutan (2-0) and Pakistan (1-0) in their first two matches, are at the top of the table with six points. Behind them are Nepal and Pakistan who have a win each but the latter lead the table on goal difference. Pakistan and Bhutan are playing each other in the first match of the day and the result between that game will help both Nepal and Bangladesh make strategies accordingly.

An unlikely defeat for Pakistan will mean a draw will be enough for both Nepal and Bangladesh to progress into the knockout stage.

But a victory for Pakistan will put pressure back on Nepal who will have no other option than to beat Bangladesh. Defeats for Pakistan and Nepal will also put Bhutan in the fray with goal difference coming into play.

If Nepal and Pakistan both play draw, the latter will make it through in head-to-head result. Pakistan, who were playing official football tournament after a long suspension from Fifa, had stunned Nepal 2-1 in their first match. Nepal’s only way out following a draw for Pakistan will be defeating Bangladesh for a safe passage.

But Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan believed they might not have to go through that route. “I don’t think Bangladeshi football is way ahead of us. Playing against them in their own conditions is going to be a challenge for us but we are capable of beating them as we have done in the past,” said Maharjan on the eve of the match.

Nepal can take solace from the fact that they have won three out of five matches against Bangladesh in the Saff Championship. Nepal have beaten Bangladesh in their previous two encounters, the last being a 1-0 victory during the 2013 Saff Championship in Kathmandu.

The Bangladeshi team did well in the recently concluded Asian Games men’s football in Jakarta. Additionally they are coming into the tournament after preparation tour of South Korea. However, the Bangladeshi media itself rate Nepal better team than their own. Their coach Jamie Day is confident his side will be ready to deliver the right result.

“We will gradually gather momentum in this tournament. Our team is capable of coming up with the game as demanded by the situation,” said Day. But a majority of Nepali squad including coach Maharjan are confident to beat Bangladesh believing their team has gained momentum after the comprehensive victory over Bhutan.

Published: 2018-09-08 08:53:20