By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA
Nepal is locked in an intriguing semi-final duel against an impressive Afghanistan for a place in the final of the SAFF Championship in New Delhi, India.
Afghanistan topped Group A, following their 8-1 destruction of minnows Bhutan. While the other semi-final is between host India and Maldives.
Afghanistan’s 1-1 draw against India in the opener was considered a fluke by many in the football circle. However, they proved doubters wrong in their last two matches, which they won rather convincingly. So far their performance has been the highlight of the championship.
Considering Afghanistan’s uncertain state of the affairs, the kind of progress they have made in sports like football and cricket is incredible. In a short period of time they have made their presence felt in a significant way.
Withstanding adverse circumstances, Afghani athletes are engaged in competitive sports, nationally and internationally. Their resiliency, hard work and dedication to strive for success keep them going.
Now they are in the last four stage of the SAFF Championship, looking and hoping to make further dent in the competition. Should they succeed it would be a remarkable accomplishment.
In Afghanistan we have a formidable and highly motivated opponent. We know their potential and seen their exploits. They have exhibited fire power and intensity in their quest to succeed. They have improved after every game and made scoring look easy.
More importantly, they are a balanced outfit served with penetrative and speedy forwards who have shown a knack for scoring goals. Also they tower over our players, physically, an advantage they can cash in on.
The team has benefited immensely from players who play club football in the lower tier of European leagues (Germany, Norway and Germany). To add, the skipper plays for Mumbai FC as well.
On the other hand, Nepal has looked solid and impressive so far. Our aggressive and organized brand of football has earned us high marks from football observers. The youngsters have displayed poise, will power, excellence, coupled with positive attitude.
Our game has mainly centered on rock solid defense and innovative mid-field. Going by our performances in three matches and football watchers verdict, we are in with a great chance to win the elusive trophy, which means so much to us.
Could this be our year? Can we seize the opportunity? We will have to wait and see.
I believe we can do it, long as our youngsters rise to the occasion by putting up a life time performance. That said, success largely hinges on the effectiveness of our offense (weakest link), that has badly faltered and struggled.
The three goals scored by the defense is a reminder to all how far they are lagging behind when it comes to performing. Unless they shrug off their lethargy and mediocrity, it will hurt the team and further stretch the defense and mid-field.
In crunch matches the role of strikers is vital, and their failure to come up big means trouble for the team. Ace striker Anil Gurung on whom high hopes was pinned has looked a shadow of his former self. So have the other two forwards Jumanu and Santosh.
Here I have to remind readers that we are missing strikers of the caliber of Ganesh Thapa, Mani Shah, Krishna Thapa, Ashok KC, Bhuddhi Gurung and Hari Khadka to name a few.
Though our defense has been at the top of their game, they have to perform a notch better to keep in check the fast and swift moving Afghani attack that can score at will given the openings. Our mid-fielders have been brilliant all along and carries extra burden, especially with the offense going erratic and haywire.
The occasion is big and perfect for Coach Roberts and his boys to dazzle and corner glory. They must strive to make the most out of it. Is it doable? Absolutely we can do it.