25 years of int’l football: Few successes, too many disappointments

Kathmandu, November 19:

November 20, 1982 was the day Nepali football entered the international arena with a 3-1 loss against Kuwait in the Asian Games in New Delhi.

Since then Nepal have played 120 matches with just 24 wins and nine draws. The outcome indicates Nepal have failed to mature in the past 25 years. In between many stars were born and faded away, but the Nepali football remained almost static. It does not, however, mean Nepali football hasn’t gained any success. Late Rupak Raj Sharma, the skipper of the Nepali squad that played first international match in 1982, led his team to championship win at the 1st South Asian Federation Games (SAF) in Kathmandu in 1984.

Raju Kaji Shakya was the other skipper who led Nepal to the sixth SAF Games gold medal in India in 1993. Apart from these two titles, the third-place finish at the AFC Challenge Cup in Bangladesh in 2006 has been the best result in other major international tournaments.

SAF Games have always been Nepali players’ hunting grounds as most of the records were made during the regional tournaments. Nepal’s biggest victory by margin came in 1999 against Bhutan when they registered a 7-0 win at the eighth SAF Games in Kathmandu.

YB Ghale is the first international goal scorer for Nepali team. Ganesh Thapa, currently the ANFA president, scored the first hat-trick for Nepal at the third SAF Games against Bhutan in 1987 in India.

Only two others — Naresh Joshi and Nirajan Rayamajhi — have matched Thapa’s feat in international football. Hari Khadka leads the highest scorers’ chart with 12 goals to hiscredit followed by Nirajan Rayamajhi with 12.

The Nepali football came across a forgotable two years from 2001-2003 when the row between two factions — government-backed and FIFA-backed — led Nepali football into deep trouble. Nepal could not participate in any events and the rankings slipped heavily. Currently, Nepal lie 186th in FIFA rankings.

The dispute was settled, but not before it contributed in pushing Nepali football backward. After the humiliating 16-0 loss to South Korea in the 13th Asia Cup Qualifiers in 2003, Nepal decided not to participate in international events until 2006. In the recent two matches, Nepal lost against Oman by the identical 2-0 margin in World Cup qualifiers.