A Nepali fan’s perspective of Nepal’s Chances in SAFF Cup
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA
With the biennial South Asian Federation Football Championship begins, there is a palpable excitement in the air. Football goers across South Asia are waiting with baited breath for start of the region’s biggest football spectacle.
Come 2 Dec, 2011 the ninth edition of the championship kicks- off at the gigantic Jawaharal Nehru stadium in New Delhi, India. Vying for the honor are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The tournament that started in 1993 showcases the cream of South Asian football. Over the years, we have witnessed a bevy of outstanding players emerge to become household names in the region, thanks to the championship.
Host India often referred the sleeping giant of world football has totally dominated the show, winning five times (1993, 1997, 1999, 2005 and 2009). Predictably, they are the front runner this time as well.
Should they triumph again, I will not be surprised a little bit. They enjoy an edge over their opponents on all front of the game and have a huge home advantage. It will not be easy to beat them in their own backyard. They are in group A consisting of Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka (1995), Bangladesh (2003) and Maldives (2008) have won once each. Speaking of Nepal, we are still looking forward to our first success. In retrospect, the championship has not been a happy hunting ground for us.
Our best finish is third place in the inaugural edition of the championship in 1993. Other than that we have failed to accomplish anything of significance. Here we are again with a chance to break the jinx. So, the million dollar question is, can we do it?
British Coach Roberts and the boys are a confident lot and seriously believe that they can strike it rich. But the recently concluded three nation tour undertaken by the national team paint a different story in terms of performance that was riddled with inconsistency and mediocrity.
This is undoubtedly a big challenge but is doable. We stand a chance of winning unless we put in a vastly improved performance. Grouped alongside Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan, there is literally no room for complacency on our part.
We need to play at our best against every team, and it is very important that we get off to a good start. Against a well trained and prepared Maldives and Bangladesh we have to play total football.
Both past winners are strong contenders and have shown marked improvement in technique and approach. The physically tough Pakistanis are a stubborn side. For any outfit, which include us, requires a whole lot of effort to crack them.
Having delved into opponents’ strengths, I am confident that we can still prevail, and our success largely hinges on players’ ability to rise to the occasion and deliver the goods.
Our opener against Maldives is crucial and obviously, the outcome will have a huge bearing on our chances in the tourney.
As of November 2011 World FIFA Rankings Nepal is 143, second highest ranked team in the tournament. Topping the rankings is Bangladesh (142), and followed by India (162), Maldives (166), Pakistan (174), Sri Lanka (176), Afghanistan (178) and Bhutan (198).
Ranking is merely symbolic to me. More relevant is the team’s performance and end result, a thought shared by many. Our desperation to succeed is at its height and the stakes are high for us. I repeat here again it is up to the boys to make it happen.
They have to be at their very best and slog it out to the very end. With talented and experienced players in the likes of Anil, Sandip, Santosh, Rohit and Jumanu in the mix, I strongly feel we can do it.
I don’t know how much the team has benefitted from Coach Roberts or what Coach Roberts has accomplished. Having said that, it would be unfair to pin high hopes on him, considering the fact that he has been around for a relatively short period of time.
For now we have to wait and see whether his presence has made a world of difference for the team.
Interestingly, six of the eight teams in the fray have foreign coaches. They are as follows; Sri Lanka (S Korea), Bhutan (Japan), Bangladesh (Republic of Macedonia), Maldives (Hungary), Pakistan (Serbia) and Nepal (England). India and Afghanistan have home grown coaches.
The competition might have lacked mass appeal; however, it does provide aspiring, talented young booters a very important platform to show off their skills. Besides, every footballer dreams of playing for the country at some point in his career, a huge accomplishment in itself.
With football standards and development lagging behind in South Asia the importance of the tournament has risen in my opinion.
The matter of truth is that there remains so much to be done to develop football in the region , and it can be achieved only through a collective effort and earnest zeal ,coupled with honesty on part of respective football associations with the support of their government.
NOTE: This article was sent to us by Sushil Thapa via email. You can send your own article to [email protected]