Sports

Nepal take on Bhutan with semis at stake

- HIMESH RATNA BAJRACHARYA, DHAKA

Sep 6, 2018-

Nepal take on Bhutan in their second Group ‘A’ match of the Saff Championship football tournament at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka on Thursday with semi-final berth at stake for both the teams.

Both the teams go into the match after losing their opening games. Nepal lost 2-1 to Pakistan courtesy to a last-gasp goal from Muhammad Ali. Bhutan went down 2-0 to hosts Bangladesh. Victory would be key to both the teams in their bid to qualify for the semi-finals ahead of their final group games.

The game is scheduled to being at 4pm (Nepal time).

Goalkeeper Kiran Limbu will captain the Nepali team instead of regular captain Biraj Maharjan. This will be Limbu’s first stint as the captain of the national football team.

Despite losing the opening match, Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan was hoping to advance to the next round. “We don’t have any other option other than beating Bhutan and keep alive our qualification hopes,” said Maharjan. Bhutan’s British coach Trevor Morgan was also keen on making it to the second round of the prestigious tournament.

The only other occasion Bhutan had reached the semi-final was during 2008 edition in Male, Maldives. Bhutan only entered the biennial tournament from 2003.

Bhutan had a week-long preparation in Thailand ahead of the Saff Championship, also known as Saff Suzuki Cup. The Briton said that the preparations of the team were sound. “Only if we reach the semi-finals can we be satisfield,” the British coach was quoted as saying by the official Saff website.

Nepal can be considered a big favourites considering the past encounters as Nepal have won all seven matches against Bhutan. In the last two international matches played in 2011, Nepal beat Bhutan 1-0 and 2-1. Nepal have scored 15 and conceded three goals. But time has changed that have seen both the teams making big strides.

Nepal have also never advanced beyond the semi-finals stages in the Saff Championship having made that far on four occasions: 1995 (Colombo), 1999 (Goa), 2011 (New Delhi) and 2013 (Kathmandu).

Of the seven Saff members, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are the only teams yet to win the title. “We have won all matches against Bhutan and hopefully we will keep that record intact on Thursday,” Maharjan had said before the team’s departure to Dhaka.

Despite the confidence of Maharjan the young Bhutanese side could be a tough nut to crack. Bhutan, who conceded opening goal in the third minute through penalty against Bangladesh, gave a tough fight against the hosts. The Druks will be counting on their prolific striker Chencho Gyeltshen for goals. The 22-year-old, who is enrolled with I-League side Bengaluru FC for 2018-19 season, was declared the best striker of last I-League season. He had scored seven goals playing crucial role in Minerva Punjab’s I-League title haul last season.

Nepal conceded both the goals against Pakistan due to defensive error. To add to their woes they lacked cutting edge up front.

“We should not repeat the mistakes and need to improve on both the attacking and defensive front,” said Maharjan who also hinted on changing the starting lineup. “We unfortunately lost against Pakistan but will look to make amends in the next game,” said Maharjan. The late fixture of the day sees Pakistan taking on hosts Bangladesh.

Published: 06-09-2018 08:15

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