The men’s national football team of Nepal put on a decent performance against Laos in the joint preliminary qualifications of the 2026 World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup recently.
After playing a somewhat disappointing stalemate against Laos at home,Nepal managed to scrape through by a solitary goal in the away match. The victory ensured Nepal a place in the second round. Given the struggle the senior team has been going through lately,it was a relief to see them in the win column finally.
The second round is going to be tough and challenging for Nepal as they face formidable opponents in the likes of the United Arab Emirates(UAE), Bahrain and Yemen in Group H. Occupying 69th spot in FIFA rankings, the UAE is the highest ranked team in the group,followed by Bahrain at 83rd. Likewise, Yemen and Nepal are lowly ranked at 156 and 173 respectively.Going by the strengths,preparations and recent performances,the battle for the top position in the group is expected between the UAE and Bahrain.
Portuguese Paulo Bento took over the national team as head coach of the UAE recently. He is a well known name in Asian football.Prior to his arrival in the UAE, he managed the national team of South Korea and guided them to the final round of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The Portuguese announced a strong squad against Nepal. As part of the preparations for the qualifiers, the national team undertook extensive training in Zagreb,Croatia. Also they played a series of friendly matches against Lebanon ,Kuwait, Costa Rica, Thailand and Tajikistan,winning four and drawing one. Additionally, the only time UAE qualified for the World Cup was in 1990 in Italy.
Against a relatively weak Nepal they are the overwhelming favorites and expected to win comfortably. Coach Bento made it clear that they will not take any chances and go all out for a big win. Going into the match as heavily favored and playing in front of the home crowd, they will be under some sort of pressure to register an outright win. 0n the other hand, Nepal’s preparation for the competition was ordinary.
They played friendly matches against lower rated teams like Laos, Pakistan,Bhutan, Myanmar and Philippines. Based on the results and overall match performances,the team must improve their performance and take the game to a new level to make some kind of impact. Italian head coach Vincenzo Annese is fully aware of the challenges his team faces against a technically and physically superior opponent in the stature of the UAE.
He has assembled the best possible squad, a blend of experience and youth. Despite the odds stacked against them and the enormity of the challenge,the team must embrace the challenge wholeheartedly and throw in everything to become competitive regardless. The key here is giving the opponent a run for their money.They must be focused, committed, confident and display fighting spirit and make them earn success through the hard way.
When all is said and done,it will come down to the team's competitive mindset,attitude and approach to the match. The fact of the matter is that Nepal has nothing to lose.The only burden they carry is proving themselves.This is another big opportunity for the team to rise to the occasion.
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax,VA, USA
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