By: Aviskar KC
Football fans in Nepal have been clamoring for regular football matches for a very long time. In fact every tournament the national team underperforms at, the finger is pointed at ANFA and their ineptitude to get enough game under the bags to prepare and gel the national team together.
Well that is finally over as even if ANFA fails to organize friendly games, the national team will still be playing a competitive game in every international break until March of next year thanks to Nepal being involved in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
But what does this mean for Nepal’s national team?
Nepal are grouped against Philippines, Tajikistan and Yemen and although the hope for now is capturing one of the top two spots, it may be a stretch too far for a Nepal team which is young and very inexperienced at the international stage.
The most difficult tournament Nepal plays in terms of competition comes once every two years in the form of the SAFF Championship and Nepal couldn’t even make it out of a group containing India and Sri Lanka in the last edition. They did clinch the AFC Solidarity Cup 2016, and although no trophy in football comes easy, Nepal were the clear favorites even before a single ball was kicked.
Now the stakes are much higher. Nepal is up against three teams that are better than us in almost every aspect. Sure we may have promise, passion, dedication, a terrific crowd back home but simply put we will have our backs against the wall in every single game as underdogs.
At the end of the two rounds of fixtures, Nepal may be 4th in the group with 6 losses, a ton of goals conceded, our rankings may take a hit thanks to results not going our way and our team might end up being the whipping boys of the group.
But none of that will matter. We have nothing to lose in the upcoming six games. We are under no pressure and no obligation to win. We can go into games, play our natural game, soak up as much experience as we can, try to learn from our mistakes as our young team learns and understands the grind of international football.
As I mentioned earlier, the SAFF Championship is the biggest tournament Nepal played in up until now. They couldn’t even qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup let alone be part of the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers. So this Asian Cup qualifiers for Nepal is not about winning. Sure through some sheer hard work and some luck we might get a win or two or even sneak into the 2nd position in the group, but most importantly this tournament for Nepal is all about finally being a part of something.
We get to play regular football at the international stage, our players gain some valuable experience, our younger players namely Anjan and Bimal can show off what they have learned in Europe, other Nepalese players can showcase their talents and potentially get themselves noticed in the eyes of foreign scouts and most importantly Nepal can gauge its level against some very good teams of Asia.
Win or lose very badly, the upcoming six games are huge for Nepal as we will finally get to see our country up against some strong competition, the ceiling of this team will be much clear and with the experience of the Asian Cup qualifiers under their bags Nepal will take their first step into breaking through and spring boarding towards the upper echelons of Asian football.