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Nepal Faces Acid Test In AFC Challenge Cup 2012 ('s Senior Columnist Sushil Thapa Writes)
Feb 16, 2012 10:58:47 AM
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA

In less than a month the prestigious AFC Challenge Cup qualifier kicks off in Kathmandu. This is by far the most anticipated tournament of 2012 Nepali football calendar and is expected to draw massive crowds.

Yet once again Kathmandu valley sport enthusiasts have been rewarded with a gala sporting spectacle that is going to stir plenty of excitement. It is hoped that that they show up for every match in strength and passionately root for the home team.

Nepal, Palestine, Maldives, Turkmenistan, DPR Korea, Philippines, India and Tajikistan will battle it out for the top honor. The winner of the group will get the ticket to the final round of the AFC Asian Cup to be held in Australia in 2015.

Expectations are high when it comes to Nepal’s performance, especially following their fairly impressive showing in the SAFF Championship in New Delhi, India last year.The upcoming tournament however is very   different   in terms of challenge, competition and opponents, and this is going to be a whole lot tougher for us.

We have to put more concerted effort, coupled with individual brilliance for a decent result. What is equally important is how effectively and consistently we play.

Should we not improve our performance, we can find ourselves in a spot of  bother.  In New Delhi the offensive line was our Achilles Heel that eventually contributed to our downfall.

In all probability the same attack line  will be retained for the competition by Coach  Robert Grahams. Since he has to pick   players from the present pack  the Coach is left without much choice. I wonder how he   addresses  the grey area that  has caused  much consternation  and discussion.

The forwards who supposedly will be under pressure must step up to compensate for their lethargic and lackluster SAFF Championship performance. Ace striker Anil  Gurung  on whom the  team  heavily  relied  for  goals was a huge disappointment.

Gurung has to reinvent himself and retrieve his goal scoring touch that made him a household name in Nepali football. Also the other two experienced strikers Santosh Shukula and Jamuna Rai have to find their   scoring prowess .

Coach Grahams might have fewer problems in midfield and defense, but deep down he is aware of the enormity of the challenge  he  and his boys face.Undoubtedly, we will be challenged  more vigorously, physically and mentally.

Playing in your backyard in front of your people is a big advantage, however, at the same time there is pressure  to perform  to crowd expectations.  Although the   squad   for the all important tournament is yet to be made public, I strongly feel it will be an unchanged line-up.
There is not much to analyze and dissect players who would be in charge of goalkeeping, midfield forward and defense. We know our susceptibilities and strong points, however, I will say though in my opinion it would  be  a good  strategy  to  have more  mid-fielders in the starting line - up with the sole purpose to bolster both offense and  defense. 

Assuming that the same eleven that played in New Delhi is  selected  the boys will have to perform mightily and consistently to  impact  the championship. We are in a relatively easy group alongside  Palestine , Maldives and Turkmenistan, but that does not ensure us a  roller coaster ride.

Let us be reminded that the opponents are formidable and better prepared for the championship. To avoid reversals we have to put in a superb performance to be at par with them. In tight matches ( I expect )  there is   virtually no room for complacency and mediocrity.

Overwhelming favorite Korea spearheads the other group comprising Philippines, India  and Tajikistan. The Koreans are obviously the front runner and it would be very fascinating  to see how the other teams perform.

Despite  time fast running out, All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) is still making efforts to fix tune up matches for the national team. This is absolutely ludicrous and comical. And I say this because the football body had all the time in the world to work out an arrangement in a timely manner.  What a joke ?

I do not expect this to happen, and if it does I will be taken aback. Also we cannot allow players risk injuries at the last hour.

At the moment ANFA is all geared up for FIFA President Sepp  Blatter’s visit.  No wonder their priorities have shifted from the national team to Mr. Blatter, which  in fact is a big irony and  unthinkable.

We will have to wait and see whether ANFA President Ganesh Thapa and company are able to make the most out of  Mr. Blattter’s visit  for Nepali football.

My best wishes to the national team and hopefully they exceed our expectations when it comes to performance.

Sushil Thapa is a senior Sports Journalist based in USA.

Comments are welcome!
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