News Nepal Vs Kuwait Tomorrow - Team Nepal Faces Big Challenge In SAFF Championship 2023
Sushil Thapa

The men’s national football team of Nepal takes on Kuwait in the opener of the 14th edition of the South Asian Federation Football Championship which kicks off on Tuesday in Bengaluru, India.

Eight teams are competing in the region’s biggest and prestigious tourney.The highlight of this year’s edition is the participation of two outsiders Kuwait and Lebanon. Missing from the tournament is Sri Lanka, suspended by FIFA for an indefinite period.

The presence of Kuwait and Lebanon is likely to spice up the tournament, making it more competitive, intriguing and interesting. Despite the significance of the South Asian Federation Football championship (SAFFC),participants have not benefited much in the true sense. The tournament unquestionably is an important platform for emerging talents in the region to showcase their skills.

However, the competition lags behind in quality, and the standard of play leaves a lot to be desired. By all accounts,it is a poor reflection of South Asian football. Inviting quality teams from outside the federation to the tournament is the right thing to do. In doing this it builds interest in the tournament,making it more competitive and challenging. And teams benefit from playing against strong and superior opponents which helps boost their performance. Whether or not defending champions India’s stranglehold on the tournament comes under attack this time, time will tell.

Given their convincing victory over Lebanon after 46 years to lift the Intercontinental Cup recently, they have sent a warning to their opponents. It is not an overstatement to say that the Blue Tigers are in good form and playing a positive brand of football. Of the seven South Asian countries,only Nepal and Bhutan have never won the SAFFC.

Nepal’s best finish has been the second place in the last edition held in Maldives.In the final they meekly went down to India. On the other hand,Bhutan has never ever come close to winning the elusive championship. Team Nepal under the new head coach Italian Vincenzo Alberto Annese gets another shot at SAFFC glory.

The Italian coach took over a team that was poorly performing and impacted by established players who migrated overseas. He tasted success early as his team lifted the Prime Minister Three nations Cup featuring Nepal, Laos and Bhutan held in Kathmandu a few months ago.

In spite of the success, the overall performance of the team left much to be desired. Everyone agrees that the team needs a big improvement to make a meaningful impact on SAFFC. As a matter of fact, the talent pool in the country has grown but the level of play remains stagnant.

Football aficionados are aware that the team’s weaknesses outweigh its strengths. The Italian is facing an even bigger challenge. It will be interesting to see how he approaches, tackles the situation and builds the squad. He knows the team has a mountain to climb in the SAFFC. The preparation for the regional tourney wasinsufficient and inadequate.The period of time players spent together as a team was limited and too short. The only friendly match played was against the Philippines.

The recently concluded Martyrs’ Memorial ‘A’ Division tournament and football clubs unwillingness to release players because of a row with ANFA over financial issues hindered the preparation.

What can we expect from a team that underwent only two weeks of preparation for the championship ? Unbelievable! It’s a case of gross negligence, incompetence, poor planning and mismanagement on the part of the football body. ANFA led by Pankaj Bikram Nembang continues to fail in its responsibilities and let down footballers in a big way. They are proving to be no better than their predecessors. On top of that, adding fuel to the fire Nepal is in a very tough group alongside India, Kuwait and Pakistan.

Undoubtedly, it is going to be a really big test for Team Nepal. Odds are stacked against them as they have a very challenging start against heavy favorites Kuwait. Clearly they are the underdogs against the technically, physically and tactically superior opponent . Despite everything, Nepal must go into the opener with lots of confidence, positivity and will power. They must step up and make their best efforts and play as a well-organized , well-synced up and collective group of players. It’s all they can do.

By Sushil Thapa,Fairfax,VA, USA.

Note: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Biba Media Group.

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