Sports

Saff Championship: Nepal eye historic final

- HIMESH RATNA BAJRACHARYA, DHAKA

Sep 12, 2018-

Nepal will be eyeing their first ever final appearance of the Saff Championship when they play against a slumping Maldives in the first semi-final at the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Wednesday.

Nepal have never crossed the semi-final hurdle in the past 11 editions of the biggest football tournament of the South Asian region. Their journey has ended in semi-final on four occasions while crashing seven times from the group stage. This time in Dhaka too, Nepal went through a roller coaster ride en rout to the semi-finals before eventually finishing as Group ‘A’ winners from a pool that consisted of hosts Bangladesh, Pakistan and Bhutan.

Although Nepal unexpectedly lost 2-1 to Pakistan in their tournament opener, the team bounced back in the next two matches beating Bhutan 4-0 and Bangladesh 2-0.

Tied on six points with Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nepal topped the group by the virtue of better scoring record among the team concerned. Pakistan finished group runners up and despite registering victories in their first two games, Bangladesh made an early exit.

Unlike Nepal, Maldives finished runners up in three-team Group ‘A’ consisting of India and Sri Lanka. They earned one point and did not score a single goal in the group stage. They played a 0-0 draw against Sri Lanka and went 2-0 down against India. They qualified for the knockout stage following a coin toss after they were tied on equal point and goal difference with Sri Lanka.

Against the Maldivians, whose football is in a downward spiral, Nepal appear firm favourites considering how they have strongly bounced back in the tournament. Coach Bal Gopal Maharjan believed his side was capable of making into the first ever final.

“We are on a verge of creating history,” said the former national team skipper. “The whole team is excited and

the boys are pretty much focused for Wednesday’s semi-final. We are raring to go out there and create history,” he added.

Maharjan said the continuous improvement in the team has instilled a huge amount of belief in them. “We have been improving each match and the players are giving their 100 percent. Even the bench players have been doing well,” said Maharjan. Out of the seven goals Nepal have so far scored in the tournament, three of them have come from substitutes in Nirajan Khadka, Bharat Khawas and Nawayug Shrestha. Maharjan refrained from disclosing his team’s strategy against Maldives adding: “It all depends on the match situation.”

Nepal’s skipper Biraj Maharjan said that the players were high on confidence and everyone is mentally prepared. “Everyone in the team is eager to get the job done and thats the right attitude for us. We will go for win and try to make our fans happy,” said Maharjan.

Maldives coach Petar Segrt tagged Nepal as the toughest opponent of the tournament. “Nepal are tough opponents and they are playing good football off late. But we will reach to the final stopping their run in the last four,” said the Croatia-born German coach.

Maldives, however, hold an edge over Nepal in their past head-to-head encounters. Out of the 15 matches played between the two sides, Nepal have won four, lost seven and drawn four of them. The most bitter history for Nepal is they have not won a single match of the Saff Championship against Maldives in their six encounters losing four and drawing two.

But in the last two encounters, Nepal have managed to pull through defeating Maldives 4-1 in the 2016 Bangabandhu Gold Cup semi-final and 4-3 in the South Asian Games. The latter was an U-23 contest.

“Our bad record against them came a long time ago. We had defeated them in the last two encounters and we are eyeing to repeat that feat again,” Maharjan said.

Nepal’s head-to-head against Maldives

               M    W    D    L    GF    GA

Total       15     4     4     7    19     20

SAFF       6      0     2     4    7       14

In Dhaka    4    1    2     1    7       5  

Published: 12-09-2018 09:16

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