The national football teams of Nepal and India are ready for the crucial first leg 2018 World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers show down in Guwahati, Assam on 12 March.
The clash of the neighbours has always triggered lots of buzz and interest in football goers on both sides of the borders. This time is no different. There is excitement in the air and frustrated supporters are hoping that their team wins. The two sides have played against each other umpteen times in the past, with India enjoying a much higher success rate.
Having said that, it has not been a smooth ride for India when it comes to tackling and overcoming Nepal. Most matches between the two have been competitive and close ones. The Indians have vulnerabilities and are beatable, no doubt. Nepal proved it by getting the better of them in the 2013 South Asian Federation Football Championship (SAFFC) in more than two decades in Kathmandu.
Let us not forget that Nepal also had shocked India at the 1993 South Asian Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh to win gold. Since then, shockingly, the team has gone without winning a single championship. The last time the two played was a friendly in Siliguri, West Bengal won by India 2-0 last year. Whether you agree with me or not, the teams are roughly on par with each other technically, tactically and physically.
The Nepali squad for the World Cup qualifiers consist of six uncapped players. The rest are a core of returning veterans in the likes of Sagar Thapa, Jumanu Rai, Santosh Shahukhala, Anil Gurung, Jagajeet Shrestha, Sandip Rai, Bharat Khawas, Raju Tamang, Bhola Silwal, Rabin Shrestha and Rohit Chand. Some of the players are over the hill and do not deserve to be in the team. Coach Jack Stefanowski along with his deputy Hari Khadka have clearly opted for experience. They believe that they will provide the much needed experience against the Indian outfit. We have heard this argument, time and time again, but to no avail.
Why should they stick to the same set of players when their ability to contribute has diminished considerably ? It makes no sense to me. This is a huge mistake.The coaches must try out and experiment fresh deserving talents, regardless of what happens.
I expect the playing eleven for the first leg to be unchanged from the one that played at the 2013 SAFFC. The team’s sub-par offensive line is the weakest link.With the scoring responsibility once again resting on the trio of Anil Gurung, Jumanu Rai and Santosh Shahukhala who have failed to meet expectations, over the years, and now the pressure is on youngster Bimal Gharti Magar to stand out. At a time when the team badly needs someone like highly talented Karna Limbu with a goal scoring prowess, the coaches have blundered by ignoring him. This speaks volumes of the flawed selection process.
The team still lacks real,combative creative midfielders who are able to influence the game. Experienced Bhola Silwal, Raju Tamang and Santosh Shahukhala have a real work on hand. Keep in mind, effectiveness of midfield play is key to a team’s success ultimately.
The defense consisting of Sandip Rai, Sagar Thapa ,Rohit Chand and Rabin Shrestha does look sound but cannot afford to become sloppy and mediocre. My biggest concern, fear is the mental and physical state of players.
Skipper Sagar Thapa did express full satisfaction over the team’s preparation for the upcoming internationals. So has Coach Stefanowski who has been a total disaster.
Whether they are lying or not , I leave it to readers to judge their statement.
Everyone is well aware that proper, effective preparation is an integral part to win matches. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with Team Nepal, most of the time. The laid back approach on part of All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) has cost Nepali football dearly.
A draw would be a great result for Nepal. Should they achieve it, they will have an advantage over the opposition going into the second leg match at home. No matter what format the coach prefers, the team has to play aggressively and pressure free. Also equally important is not to concede too many goals. The fact of the matter is that Nepal vs India has evolved into a great rivalry over the years. Although India has dominated South Asian football for long, they have failed at being dominant in the recent times.
With the slumping FIFA rankings and declining football standards, pressure is mounting on both managers. Already Indian head coach Stephen Constantine is feeling the pressure of great expectations. He knows that he is in charge of a team that has mightily struggled and under performed for a considerable period of time. He has sportingly conceded that in Nepal they face a stubborn, unpredictable and dangerous opposition. He is absolutely right. A lot depends on the form and consistency of the attacking trio of Sunil, Jeje & Robin who have done the bulk of scoring for India. As for the porous Indian defense, we will have to wait and see how coach Constantine addresses it. The Indians does have advantage over the opponents in midfield and offensive departments.
It is fair to say that India has a slight edge over Nepal going into the Guwahati show down.