Bigger challenge awaits Nepali football’s young champions

  • post-saff u-18 championship victory
- PRAJWAL OLI, Kathmandu

Oct 3, 2017-

Nepal’s entry into the festive mood was made even sweeter after the country’s young footballers lifted the Saff U-18 Championship title in Thimphu, Bhutan, on September 27. 

The title was a huge sigh of relief for the football fraternity which had to go through an upset of losing a place in the AFC U-16 Championship finals after, they ended up at the bottom in the four-team Group ‘D’ qualifiers.

The U-18 title underlined Nepal’s supremacy in this age group in the region having already landed the Saff U-19 Championship two years ago. However, the way how tournament unfolded for them in Bhutan serves a gentle reminder that the young colts need to remain grounded and their is no room for the game’s stake holders to get complacent. 

Nepal opened up the five-team round robin league tournament with their first ever defeat at the hands of Bhutan, the first time they have lost to the tiny country, whose population is yet to exceed one million, in any form of the game. The loss did wake up Nepali squad from their slumber before three back-to-back victories helped them clinch the title on head-to-head records after being tied on nine points with Bangladesh. 

“The defeat against Bhutan was a big upset for Nepal and every remaining matches were like final for us,” said Sanjiv Mishra, the head of the Nepali delegates. “We tried to motivate the players that tournament was not yet over following that defeat (to Bhutan) and wins in remaining matches could fetch us title,” added Mishra, who is also the deputy general secretary of the All Nepal Football Association.

Nepal made a comeback in the tournament defeating Maldives 2-0 and followed that victory beating Bangladesh 2-1 in the penultimate game. With all four teams, barring Maldives, in the contention to lift the title, it put forward Nepal a challenge to beat India and they exactly did that cruising past their archrivals 2-0 in what served as the final match. Mishra believed that the tournament draw also helped in Nepal’s cause. “Our first match against Bhutan was on September 20, two days after we saw other four teams playing. It helped us analyse their game and come up with a concrete plan,” said Mishra.

Skipper Arpan Karki wanted to forget the day they lost to Bhutan in a match where they exerted consistent pressure throughout the game and missed scoring chances at regular intervals. “We were running out of luck and the late penalty had summed up our day,” said Karki whose side proved the doubters wrong after lifting the title with a remarkable comeback in the tournament.

Nepal’s title triumph has no doubt shadowed the 1-0 loss against Bhutan but it must serve as a wake up call, to which Mishra admits. “The victory over heavyweights India and Bangaldesh suggest that Nepal have bright future in football and they could be dominant force in South Asia. But we cannot take things for granted after winning one title. We need to have even better preparations and make sure we respect the title as administrators,” concluded Mishra. 

Nepal’s real test now will be in the AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers which is scheduled for October 24 to November 8. Pitted alongside continent’s strong teams Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kyrgyzstan in Group ‘A’, Nepal can make further progress only if they finish winners or emerge among the five best runners-up from the 10 teams.

Published: 03-10-2017 08:49

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