News Big Challenges Ahead for Nepal (Sr. Columnist Sushil Thapa Writes..)
Sushil Thapa

As I expected, the national football team of Nepal exited from the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers recently in Kuwait City,Kuwait.

In the final leg of the qualifiers,Nepal played three matches, winning one and losing two to finish fourth in Group B.Australia,Jordan, Kuwait and Chinese Taipei were the other teams in the group.

It may be recalled that Nepal’s three home matches were moved to Kuwait City, Kuwait. All in all,Nepal wrapped up the qualifiers with 6 defeats and 2 wins.Unquestionably, they failed to deliver the desired end result.

As a matter of fact, Nepal’s fourth place finish in the group and overall performance came as no surprise to me.That said, given the challenging circumstances and opponents' quality,in my opinion,the young team did not underperform. They lived up to our expectations.There is no question about it.They did their very best and gave a spirited performance throughout.

They were up against heavyweights in the likes of Australia, Kuwait and Jordan.Obviously, this was never going to be easy. In the final matches of Group B, Nepal had to deal with technically, tactically and physically superior top notch opponents Australia and Jordan.

Although they were completely outplayed by the rivals in every department,they put up resistance and made them work hard to score goals.In other words,they avoided crushing losses.

In the clash between two evenly matched teams,Nepal did not disappoint against Chinese Taipei by contrast.In a must win duel,they came up trumps.When it mattered most,they delivered the result.

The win was Nepal’s second over the Islanders. With two wins, they garnered six points and eventually finished as one of the best fourth placed teams in round two of the qualifiers. The fourth place finish earned them a spot in the third round of the 2023 Asia Cup qualifiers, which can be considered an accomplishment of some sort,especially for a team that has mightily struggled in international football, over the years.

More importantly,the tournament provided the team the much needed international exposure,experience, opportunity to play against formidable opponents and learn the finer points of the sport as well.

Players displayed lots of confidence,positivity, gusto,energy,fighting spirit and enthusiasm while performing on the big stage.They put forth their best effort to showcase their skills and make a lasting impression.

I have always highlighted the fact that there is no dearth of talent in the country. Unfortunately, we have wasted talent year after year due to the sad state of affairs of football in the country. Nepal football has lagged behind because of underdevelopment, corruption, mismanagement,factionalism, politicalization,coupled with weak leadership and governance for decades.

All Nepal Football Association(ANFA) is the main culprit responsible for this state of affairs. Nothing seems to have changed ,nothing seems to be changing.That is the reality of the situation now.

Going forward in the COVID era, Nepal participates in two major tournaments- third round of 2023 Asia Cup qualifiers and South Asian Federation Football Championship (SAFFC). The fact is that given the challenges Nepal face in the third round of the 2023 AFC Asia Cup qualifiers,it is not an understatement to say that they don't stand much of a chance.The question that comes to mind is, how well can they perform or how competitive can they get?

Unquestionably,it is another opportunity for Team Nepal to play against some of the best teams in Asia.They have to prove themselves against elite teams regardless of the outcome yet again. The key is to remain positive and use the tournament as a learning opportunity.The chance should not be wasted.

On the other hand,Nepal does stand a chance of winning the SAFFC in realistic terms.They take on equally -skilled opponents in terms of performance, quality, technique and physical attributes.

When all is said and done, at the end of the day it comes down to who is better prepared,mentally stronger and executes better. They have a genuine chance to be back in the saddle,but it is easier said than done.They have to be in the groove,carry the champions' mindset and perform like champions. Kuwaiti Abdullah Al Mutairi, the new Head Coach of the national football team of Nepal could not be more relieved and thrilled, although his side exited from the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.

He has got off to a fairly good start,in all fairness to him.The team’s qualification to the third round of the Asia Cup Qualifiers is a big deal for Nepal football.

Also he boldly gambled by putting together a youthful squad, which included six rookies for the last three World Cup qualifying matches in Kuwait. The team’s overall performance points to the fact that his strategies worked to some degree.

Coach Mutairi's big challenge is the SAFFC taking place in Bangladesh in September,2021.He will come under the microscope when it comes to the team's preparations, selection,strategies and approach.

Lately there has been a lot of talk swirling around him. It is way too early to dissect his performance.

It is only recently that he took over the national team. I will leave that discussion for next time. Let us hope that he performs the task with great aplomb.

By Sushil Thapa,Fairfax,VA, USA

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