Listless Nepal was outplayed by a new look India in the first leg of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in Guwahati, Assam. This resulted in yet another frustrating and disappointing outcome for Nepal national football team. Can it get any worse than this? The dismal run of defeat in international tournaments for the team continues unabated. For die hard fans like me the setback is difficult to digest.
Overall the team’s performance was not what everyone, including me anticipated. Prior to the show down, both coach Jack Stefanowski and skipper Sagar Thapa had exuded confidence in their side. They stated that the team was well prepared and confident of performing well. There is no need for me to elaborate on their statement that lacked truth. The result speaks for itself. I will say, though the players gave their very best, they struggled physically and lacked the stamina that was required.
In defeat Coach Stefanowski never says anything new. He repeats exactly the same thing without adding new detail. In order to please All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), he will not admit that the team was ill prepared and some players were not match fit. Since Coach Stefanowski’s takeover of the national squad, things have gone haywire. Time and time again, eyebrows have been raised when it comes to his role in the team’s selection, preparation and approach to tournaments.
I am not critical of the coach for the sake of it. Long as he does his job honestly sans any vested interest, he has my full backing. I fully understand the challenges a foreign coach faces in a country like Nepal. The selection committee (if there is any) is largely responsible for failing to rebuild the team. They are guilty of sticking to old timers and not reshuffling the team to infuse fresh blood. Their over dependence on some players is ludicrous and baffling. It appears though a handful of players are always guaranteed a spot in the team irrespective of their form and physical fitness. The fifty plus players summoned for the close camp looks though was merely a formality.
The Indians exploited the gaping hole in midfield and offensive weakness. There has been very little or no effort to address these weaknesses by the coaching staff. The 2-0 victory achieved by India puts tremendous pressure on Nepal in the home match next week. It would have been a lot worse had Sunil Chhetri not missed the spot kick. Ace striker Chhetri scored both goals for the winners but was denied a hat-trick by custodian Chemjong who made a superb save. By and large, the Indians were the better side and thoroughly deserved victory.
Nepal went into the match with high hopes and low expectations. They were able to keep the rivals at bay in the first half and raised a flicker of hope of the game going to a climatic finish. The optimism quickly evaporated in the second half as the boys failed to play with intensity. They were unable to handle the pace and power that unsettled them. There is no excuse for Team Nepal’s defeat as they had a mediocre second half performance. They found themselves on the receiving end for the most part and ultimately paid a heavy price for their slackness.
There are lessons to learn from the hugely disappointing loss. Nepal is left facing a massive task to overcome the two-goal deficit in the second leg at home. They need to improve dramatically to stand any chance of victory.