The South Asian rivals Nepal and Maldives are locked in a fascinating and intriguing duel in the ongoing Nehru Cup football championship in New Delhi today.
The teams are evenly matched, and it will be interesting to see how they will duke it out. In recent years the two have developed a fierce rivalry.
Going by the head to head matchups between the teams, surprisingly, statistics favor Maldives. So far in the thirteen internationals played between the two national sides, the Islanders to their credit have six wins and four draws.
Their most recent win against Nepal was at the AFC Challenge Cup held in Kathmandu early this year. Prior to that, the two had played a 1-1 draw at the South Asian Football Federation(SAFF) Championship held in New Delhi last year.
For the second time this year the two teams are on the brink of renewing their rivalry. Despite the Islanders late entry into international football, they have successfully carved a niche for themselves in South Asian football in a short span of time.
There is not much to separate these two teams in terms of skills, strengths, techniques and strategies. There is no clear-cut favorite, and the game is wide open. Against Maldives, Nepal was by far the better side in the 2011 SAFF Championship and should have been victorious. Maldives, however, bounced back at the AFC Challenge Cup to stun the host by a solitary goal.
Maldives does have a psychological edge going against Nepal in today’s match, but Maldivian coach Istan Van Urbanyi must hope that his youthful squad is able to deliver the goods.
Maldives are sans some of their core players in the likes of Ibrahim Fazeel, Adam Sameer, Mukhthaar Naseer and Ahmed Thoriq who are injured or have hung up their boots. Coach Urbanyi did admit that his team was well short of a good preparation.
On the other hand, Nepal cannot afford mediocrity or sloppiness. They have to start with a bang and gather momentum early. Coach Krishna Thapa knows deep down in his heart that his team has a realistic chance of beating Maldives.
He has virtually the same squad that played with aplomb in the SAFF Championship last year. I have maintained all along that the team is young and full of promise.
Team Nepal’s biggest weakness is the attack line that has left a lot to be desired. Experienced Jumanu, Santosh and Anil for the most part have spearheaded the attack but with very limited success. They have lacked finishing touch, and their inability to score goals has really hurt the team.
Once again the fortunes of the team in Nehru Cup will largely hinge on their knack of scoring goals. Coach Thapa might start with Bharat, who has proved he can score goals.
A strong presence of seasoned players in the likes of Raju, Nirajan, Bhola and Bharat in mid-field is bound to bolster both the attack line and defense. Thetrio of Sagar, Sandip and Rohit provides solid cover to the defense . That said, Team Nepal will have to play their very best to succeed.
At the end of the day though, the team that plays consistently and makes most of chances stand a chance to win.