Sports

Nepal skipper Thapa, Nagarkote set new benchmark

- PRAJWAL OLI, BIRATNAGAR

Mar 14, 2019-

As Nepal hosts the SAFF Women’s Championship football tournament on home soil for the first time, two players--the current skipper Niru Thapa and her deputy Renuka Nagarkote--remarkably remain in the national fold since participating in the first edition way back in 2010.

Despite representing Nepal in the inaugural edition nine years ago, both the players missed out once in playing at the biennial event. Nepal women’s team made comeback to international arena in 2010 competing in two events: first in the  South Asian Games (SAG) in Dhaka, which included women’s football for the first time, before playing SAFF Championship the same year. Nepali team’s last international participation before 2010 was the Asian Cup held in Philippines in 1999.

Called as a defender, Thapa represented Nepal in the first SAG as the team finished second behind champions India. The same year, midfielder Nagarkote joined Thapa in the national fold appearing for Nepal as a substitute in two matches of the inaugural SAFF Women’s Championship in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, in December. Thapa and Nagarkote now remain the only two players to survive all these years in the national team. Thapa was not included in the 2016 SAFF Championship in India while Nagarkote was excluded from the 2012 edition in Sri Lanka.

“I am happy to reach a new milestone, playing in four SAFF Championship,” said the 29-year-old who now plays as a forward. Thapa has won 35 caps for far and stands fourth in the list of all-time highest scorer for Nepal with nine goals to her credit. Anu Lama (35), Jamuna Gurung (25) Sabitra Bhandari (23) and Sajana Rana Magar (15) are ahead of Thapa, who took over the captaincy from the fourth SAFF Championship in 2016.

Nagarkote recalled herself as 15-year-old rookie when she made broke into the national team for 2010 SAFF Championship. Nagarkote has so far earned 21 caps for Nepal. Even before breaking into the national team, she was even called for the 2010 SAG camp in January and February but was discarded for being “too young”.

“You are too young, better try next time coach Dhruba KC had told me,” recalled the 24-year-old. “However, I earned my place in the national team in December that year when Nepal played the SAFF Championship,” she recalled. Nepal hammered Pakistan 12-0 in the match from which she made her debut.

But Nagarkoti was axed by then coach Kishore KC for the 2012 SAFF Championship in Sri Lanka but forced her way back again in 2014 in Pakistan. Ever since she has been an integral part of the Nepali national team. She, however, missed the 2016 South Asian Games in India due to an injury. She even skippered the national team in the 2016 SAFF Championship but Nepal crashed out of the semi-finals, losing the India 3-1. It was the only time Nepal have failed to make it to the final. On three other occasions, Nepal lost to India in the final.

Nagarkote, who honed her football skills at a football academy in Old Chandranigah-pur run by the late Sher Bahadur Darlami, credits the academy for whatever she is now. “I embraced football despite strong resentment from the family. I used to train despite family objections as I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Anu Lama, who also hails from the same place,” said Nagarkote, who is now happy to have take the path having represented her country for so many years.

Nagarkote is contracted with Nepal Armed Police Force Club for the last six years. In the words of national coach Hari Khadka, Nagarkoti has the ability to read opponents performance and supply accurate passes.

Thapa was a football enthusiast since the childhood and even did not miss chances of play with boys. She has been playing as a forward since joining the Nepal Police Club seven years earlier despite earning her first national team call as a defender. While Dhruba KC played her as a defender in the 2010 SAG and SAFF Championship, coach Kishor KC played her as a midfielder in the 2012 SAFF Championship. She was also entrusted with the midfielder’s role in 2014 by another coach, Kumar Katuwal.

But she was finally made to play as a forward, a position of her choice, in 2016 SAFF Championship. “I feel comfortable playing in any position that the coach asks me to,” said Thapa who failed to make the 2016 SAFF Championship. “I was hoping to play but the coach had other ideas. I did not give up and worked even harder to force my way back this time around,” said Thapa who is the striking partner of Sabitra Bhandari in the current team led by coach Hari Khadka.

Thapa harbours high hopes of finally ending Nepal’s title drought by winning the fifth edition of SAFF Championship on their own backyard. “I see a lot of improvement in the team’s performance of late and everyone is working really hard to finally land the elusive international silverware,” said Thapa, whose team recorded a maiden win over hosts India last month during the Hero Gold Cup.

Published: 14-03-2019 08:42

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