As always, football, the most popular and followed sport in the world dominated sporting headlines globally in 2014. The spectacular championship performance capped by Germany at the World Cup held in Brazil was the year’s biggest storyline. On the other hand, contrary to expectations, Brazil’s humiliating debacle in the same competition was one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
For Nepal, not surprisingly, it was a dismal, depressing and unproductive year, in terms of progress, performances and results. Nepali football was in spotlight through out the year and gained national and international attention, for all the wrong reasons. As a result, disillusioned football enthusiasts had to go through another season of win-less, frustrating, disheartening and trying season of football. They were given virtually nothing to cheer about or feel good. Die-hard sport fans in the country are aware that football is not headed in the right direction. It is not a misstatement to say that it is a time of gloom, amid a prevailing air of uncertainty.
The biggest news-maker of the year was President of All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), Mr. Ganesh Thapa, who is dealing with allegations of corruption and abuse of power. The corruption scandal was front and center through out the year, drawing unprecedented ire from all quarters. ANFA’s failed leadership and policies, coupled with corruption and mismanagement have given way to an ingrained pessimism and negativity about Nepali football’s future.
Yet, despite the bleak scenario, football popularity remained high. Countless local football tournaments were organized across the country, thanks largely to individuals and groups committed to football development.
There was/is no end to the national team’s losing streak in international tournaments. As their championship drought continued, the team’s struggle hit new heights under Coach Jack Stefanowski. Coach Stefanowski retained by ANFA has totally failed to revive the team’s fortunes. Although a popular figure amongst players and ANFA officials, he has been unable to instill new confidence and professionalism to a team that has been mightily struggling. As a matter of fact, he has become a rubber stamp for ANFA. In my opinion, there is not much we can expect from him. The national team’s only international participation was the Asian Games held in Incheon in South Korea. Expectedly, they lost pretty handily to technically and physically superior Japan, Iraq and Kuwait. It was apparent that the Nepali outfit looked awesomely underprepared and tired for the competition. Besides, the team played a handful of friendlies against Yemen and Philippines only to lose. Their solitary win was against a lowly Bangladesh under-23 outfit that helped them split the two-match series 1-1.
The AFC Under-16 football tournament held in Kathmandu saw the home team turn in an inspiring performance. They topped the group with impressive wins over Turkmenistan, Bahrain and a draw against Iraq and advanced to the final round held in Thailand, keeping their World Cup qualification dreams alive. The team’s good form was evident in the final round as they held formidable Uzbekistan to a draw and got the better of Kuwait .The dream, however, came to an abrupt end, after they lost to a much superior North Korea. Nonetheless, on the whole, it was a terrific performance by the youngsters, which earned them loads of praise.
Another highlight of the year was the SAFF Women’s Championship held in Pakistan. Our footballers valiant effort to win the title went in vain, following loss to heavy favorites India in the final. The formidable Indians proved too strong for Nepali ladies. By and large, they deserve a pat on the back for their gritty performance and positive attitude. In a team with so much talent and depth, there is no doubt in my mind that they are capable of being better. That being said, nothing will ever change unless ANFA seriously commits to the development of women football.
Manang Marshyangdhi Club (MMC) had a fantastic year in domestic football. They became champions club of the country by virtue of their success at the Kathmandu A-Division League competition. The club had a hectic schedule and took part in numerous tournaments, nationally and internationally. Playing in their only second AFC President’s Cup qualifiers held in Mongolia, star-studded MMC played well and came out on top based on their superior goal difference. They outplayed Cambodia’s Svay Rieng and held Mongolia’s Wrchim to a draw. Going into the second round, with high confidence and hopes, MMC got off to a winning start against the local outfit Air Force, Sri Lanka, however, went down tamely to Turkmenistan’s HTTU Ashgabat, thus ending their dream run.
MMC was back on familiar turf in Gangtok, Sikkim for the Governor’s Cup but in the title decider lost to ONGC FC from Mumbai, India in a thrilling penalty shoot out. The King’s Cup in Thimpu, Bhutan was another disappointment for the defending champions. After barely making it to the last four, MMC lost to Bangladesh Premier League Champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club.
Our juniors were in action in the 55th Subroto Cup International tournament for Under-14 and Under-17 boys in New Delhi, India. Lok Smriti Higher Secondary School from Lalitpur represented in both age group tournaments. Despite good play the Under-17 went down fighting to Brazil’s Colegio Estadul Santo Antonio, Brazil 1-0 in the quarterfinal. Likewise, the Under-14 lost to Chawngfianga Middle School from Mizoram, India.
ANFA Cup was a hastily organized 8-team knock out tournament by ANFA in Kathmandu. The competition featured departmental teams and clubs from Kathmandu, Jhapa and Morang. The competition had its share of upsets all the way to the end. All big names from MMC to Nepal Police bite the dust. At the end of the day, rank outsiders Jhapa XI emerged victorious at the expense of Sankata XI in the final.
After much talk, finally ANFA laid the country’s first astro turf at Satdobato ground in Lalitpur. Striker Jumanu Rai, Chandra Bhandari, skipper of the national women’s team, veteran coach Yogambar Suwal along with former FIFA referee Dilip Rajak and FIFA assistant referee Aruna Gurung were this year’s recipients of Rupak Memorial Award.
Highly talented youngster Bimal Gharti Magar was under the spotlight throughout the year. His trials with Dutch club FC Twente and RSC Anderlecht, Belgium caused quite a stir. Magar made history when he inked a one-year contract with Anderlecht Club to play for its under-19 team. Another footballer in the news was Rohit Chand, the only member of the national team playing outside of Nepal. He had a great season for Persija Jakarta in the Indonesian super league.
The formation of Football Club Coordination Committee consisting of Himalayan FC, Friends Club, Machhindra Club and Saraswoti Youth Club to fight against ANFA’s highhandedness, dysfunctional management of football, lies and corruption underlined the deterioration in relations between the football body and football clubs. In retaliation, the four clubs were barred from taking part in football activities endorsed and organized by ANFA.
Above all, it is a shame that President of ANFA Ganesh Thapa ‘s off field corruption scandal and misuse of office completely overshadowed everything. It all started with the oust Mr. Thapa campaign undertaken by the “Save Nepal football” group spearheaded by two Vice-Presidents of ANFA Mr. Karma Tshering Sherpa and Mr. Bijay Narayan Manandhar. The duo filed complaints of financial irregularities against ANFA at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). In addition, they filed another complaint of financial irregularities against ANFA boss to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Although PAC suspended Mr. Thapa along with three of his inner circle associates for two months from office, however, he remained defiant, and shamelessly maintained his innocence and publicly made a mockery of the decision.
The Sport Ministry and the National Sport Council were merely spectators. Their action tells the whole story. To put it bluntly, they were cowards to go against Mr. Thapa. FIFA finally dealt a blow to Mr. Thapa that brought him to his knees. With orders from the world football governing to stay away from office for four months, he has gone into complete seclusion.
The Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) decision to slap ANFA $ 2000 for fielding overage players during the recently held AFC Under 16 tournament in Thailand was the other blockbuster news of the year. This speaks volumes of ANFA’s apathy, negligence, ignorance and incompetence that have further shamed the country. Doubts still persist over the organization of the much-hyped National league, following its postponements several times.
The formation of “Players Association “ by players of the current national team with objectives to voice and address their woes underscores the growing frustration of players and agonizing state of Nepali football.
The untimely sad demise of Sher Bahadur Darlami, head coach of under-14 girls’ national team was a devastating blow to Nepali football.
Let us all hope that Nepali football moves ahead with encouraging changes in 2015,despite the pessimism and despair.