Print Edition - 2016-02-20  |  On Saturday

The Nawayug of football

  • Recent unprecedented victories are a testament of the team’s indomitable spirit, they show that even after the darkest of nights a new dawn is always just around the bend
- Adarsha Dhakal, Kathmandu

Feb 20, 2016-

2016 has been a blessed year for football already. The national team’s recent successes have given new life to the beloved game. In a span of 23 days, Nepal claimed two titles—South Asian Games’ football gold in India and the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in Bangladesh. After what was a horrid 2015, these unprecedented victories are testament of the team’s indomitable spirit and show that even after the darkest of nights, a new dawn is always just around the bend.

Not very long ago, Nepali football was in tatters. A match-fixing scandal involving national footballers and a 10-year ban on disgraced All Nepal Football Association (Anfa) President Ganesh Thapa for bribery and corruption charges had brought the game to disrepute. On the field, Nepal was on a barren spell—the team hadn’t scored a single goal in 28 months. The country had slipped to the 196th position in the Fifa World rankings, the lowest in its history. At the time, with problems persisting both on and off the field, the need for an overall facelift of football became a dire need.

The sport was suffering and needed a new hero.And then came Nawayug Shrestha—the face of the country’s fresh generation of footballers—whose prolific scoring has given hope that Nepali football’s new era has finally begun. 

Bangabandhu Gold Cup was a tournament where Nepal not only broke their goal duck but also suggested that a young brigade of footballers were ready to pick up the baton. Nepal ended their goal drought against India, where the team scored 21 goals in their last 10 games and Nawayug slamming home 11, including three hat-tricks, one of them in an international (against Maldives in Bangabandhu Gold Cup) match.

Yet, what has been uplifting is that this new-look national team is not a one-man-show. Bimal Gharti Magar, Bishal Rai, Anjan Bista, Prakash Budhathoki and Ananta Tamang, all of whom who have come from the ranks of U-19 and are below 23 years of age, have contributed to Nepal’s recent upturn. 

The national football team is currently transitioning and Patrick Aussems, who quit as the national team’s coach before blasting the football governing body for no concrete plans for uplifting the quality of the game, also deserves a round of applause for making footballing stars out of inexperienced colts. 

The juggernaut midfield trio

It is needless to say that Nawayug has proved himself as a big finisher but, in truth, the entire Nepali football team has gone through a face-lift. Forgotten are the likes of Anil Gurung, Jumanu Rai and other established names; Nepal has found a new attacking trio in the form of Nawayug, Anjan and Bimal. The new sleek midfield has yielded great results, and the control and calm they have displayed in difficult matches have been a breath of fresh air. 

Bishal Rai and Prakash Budhathoki have been the big revelations in the midfield and they along with Bikram Lama have become great springboards for the attacking football Nepal has been able to unleash. 

The 25-year old skipper Biraj Maharjan led the Nepal defence in the last two tournaments and his experience has served young defenders Ananta Tamang, Aditya Chaudhary and Dinesh Rajbanshi well. Bikesh Kuthu, the 22-year-old goalkeeper, is also a rising star and was the stand out performer in the South Asian Games final, denying India several clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

What next?

The celebrations of winning the South Asian Games gold will continue for a while but an alarming fact awaits the footballers. Nepal is not scheduled to play a single international match in the next two years, before they take to the field for the biennial Saff Championship, Bangabandhu Gold Cup and SA Games. The best Anfa can do in the interim is to arrange Fifa-recognised international friendlies, let the footballers play international tournaments or organise them on their own.

That leaves Anfa with a task of keeping the momentum intact, a challenge that has come at a time when the country’s football governing body is yet to emerge from its internal problems and initiate a change of guard after the fall of the once-ubiquitous Thapa. 

Given the recent highs, it would serve Anfa well if this transitioning side continues barrelling into fresh and new challenges. The governing body’s past sluggishness will not do, and if not checked will surely stifle the growth of the most promising crop of young players to have emerged in recent memory.Judging by the massive outpouring of joy following the two victories, it is not just Anfa, but the entire nation that is in need of continued success. Nawayug after all, as the adage goes, comes once in an eon. 

Published: 20-02-2016 09:48

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