HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU:With an aim of lifting the seventh South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship title, Nepali national team has been gearing up its preparation for the last six weeks.
The Nepali team is on Saturday — just two days after the Vijaya Dashami — leaving for Philippines to play international friendly match. The Nepali team will play at least six international matches in their one-month long foreign tour.
The success in the AFC Challenge Cup Group ‘C’ qualifiers and an emphatic win against Timor-Leste and a 1-1 home draw against Jordan in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Asia Zone Qualifiers have raised the morale of the players.
Nepal’s English Graham Roberts is more than excited with the tour. “It would be a golden opportunity for us to prepare the team for the SAFF Championships. The international matches would be crucial to make the players match-fit, to correct our mistakes and finalise the game plan and strategies,” said the coach.
The seventh edition of the prestigious tournament of South Asia is scheduled for December 2-12 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India. Roberts said their preparation this time around was better than that of previous training. “We have already trained for six weeks and on top of that we are going to play six international matches, which would definitely sharpen the skills of my boys,” said the excited coach.
However, the coach was worried about three players — Sujal Shrestha, Rohit Chand and Jagjit Shrestha — who are also in the Nepal’s AFC U-19 Championship Group ‘A’ Qualifiers squad slated for October 25 to November 4 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
“It will be problematic for me if I have to leave the trio for the Under-19 Championship. I have already given my advice to ANFA, now it’s up to the football governing body to decide,” said Roberts.
Asked about the achievements with Nepali team Roberts said he improved Nepal’s FIFA rankings from 172 to 134. “We became the first team in the South Asia in FIFA rankings, I have found the mentality and morale of the players changed, the players have shown team spirit as well,” said the coach adding players have now known their duties and responsibilities under his guidelines.
He further added they have realistic chance to improve the rankings further more from a couple of international matches. Roberts have taken Bangladesh, Maldives and India as their main threats in the SAFF Championships but he was confident of lifting the title, provided the boys perform to their mark. “We have world class players, our defense line-up is really amazing, all the players are mentally and physically fit and the strikers too have raised their scoring efficiency. It has made me confident of winning the title,” added the coach.
Regarding the one-month long tour, Roberts said the first match against Philippines would be crucial and really tough. “Philippines is a very good side as they have European-based players in their team. And we have not played any match for the last three months,” he added.
Skipper Sagar Thapa was also happy with the dedication of the players and was confident of a better showing in the SAFF Championships. “We are working hard with the trophy on our minds. The one-month foreign trip will be beneficial for us,” said the skipper adding the team would miss the services of one of the influential midfielders Raju Tamang, who is in the UN Peace Keeping Mission.
Nepali squad: Goalkeepers —
Kiran Chemjong, Bikash Malla and Ritesh Thapa; Defenders — Sagar Thapa (skipper), Rabin Shrestha, Rohit Chand, Deepak Bhusal, Sandip Rai, Bikash Singh Chhetry and Biraj Maharjan; Midfielders — Nirajan Khadka, Bhola Silwal, Anil Ojha, Sujal Shrestha, Jagjit Shrestha and Ramesh Katuwal; Strikers — Jumanu Rai, Anil Gurung, Ganesh Lawati, Santosh Sahukhala, Bharat Khawas; Coaches — Graham Roberts and Upendra Man Singh.