By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA
After all the guessing, prediction and speculation, the South Asian Games men’s gold medal fixture will be between Nepal and Bhutan in Kathmandu.
Much to the delight of the home fans, the host had to labor hard and dig deep in their 1-0 victory over Bangladesh.
The game was evenly contested as both teams played at a fairly brisk pace, trading attacks and creating a host of scoring chances.
Nepal slightly looked the better side but were given a run for their money.Bangladesh did everything to get the equalizer,but in vain.
Tempers flared between the teams late in the second half, resulting in a Bangladeshi player sent off.The Nepali defense did a fairly good job to keep their slate clean despite intense pressure.
To speak, the title clash between Nepal and Bhutan is a rematch. This matchup is intriguing and at the same time interesting.
When the two sides met early in the round robin, Nepal whitewashed Bhutan 4-0 with relative ease, which was totally unexpected. As a matter of fact, Bhutan paid a heavy price for its lackluster performance.For some reason, they fell flat.
The big question is whether the second meeting would pan out in similar fashion. I very much doubt it. I bet they will be a different outfit. They are keenly looking forward to the final game and want to strike back with a vengeance.
No doubt, Bhutan’s progress to the final has been one of the biggest stories of the South Asian Games(SAG). They have already assured themselves the best ever result in the regional games.Prior to this, in four appearances their best finish was fourth place.
Now they are one match away from crowning themselves as the regional champions. Indeed, the improvement they have shown in their performance is praiseworthy and immensely significant. This is a dramatic turnaround for Bhutan football.
On the other hand, everyone agrees that Nepal is mightily struggling in both regional and international competitions lately.
They are desperately seeking redemption. Going into the final of the 13th SAG, they have a golden opportunity to prove themselves and win back some of the lost pride and glory.
They cannot afford to squander the chance. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to a disaster.
All statistics, point to the fact that Nepal is the favorite against Bhutan.Their most recent success over the rival gives them a clear psychological edge.
Having said that, Nepal does have all advantages but victory is not guaranteed.They have to earn it on the field by playing consistently and capitalizing on scoring opportunities. Players must go the extra mile,take their game to a new level and give their best effort.
The big concern for Nepal has to be the physical fitness of skipper Sujal Shrestha. The team will be pinning hopes on the highest goal scorer of the tournament for goals.
The title clash will be a whole different ball game. Nepal will face a recharged and rejuvenated Bhutan determined to upset the apple cart.
The Dragon Boys have proven it is not a team to be underestimated.Their brand of football has won the hearts and minds of football aficionados.
With that in mind, Coach Bal Gopal Maharjan has to combine right tactics, caution, aggression and positivity in his approach to deal with the opponent. He cannot take any chances.
I expect Bhutan to fire on all cylinders, focus on their strengths and exploit the opposition’s weaknesses.
They will be looking forward to their ace striker Chencho Gyeltshen, all time leading international goal scorer for Bhutan.
Nicknamed the Ronaldo of Bhutan football, Gyeltshen is a prolific goal scorer and plays for NEROCA football club based in Imphal, Manipur in the I-League. The trigger man will be the danger man for the home team
Head coach Nawang Dendup knows his team has to be better fundamentally and technically to beat Nepal on their backyard. He has faith in his boys and truly believes they can pull an upset provided things go as planned .
Nepal has the upperhand, and I would be hugely disappointed if they fail to come out as victors at the end of the day.
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