B’day Cup football tourney begins today

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, June 7:

Birthday Cup football tournament, under the auspices of All Nepal Football Association to mark the 59th birthday of King Gyanendra, is beginning from Wednesday with Friends Club taking on Boys Union Club here at the Dasharath Stadium. The last edition of the tournament was held six years ago and twice at separate venues by different organizers. Gita Rana-led ANFA, then in power, organised the tournament at Dasharath Stadium, which RCT won. RCT also won the inaugural tournament in 1973. In 2000 Ganesh Thapa-led ANFA, held the tournament in Chitwan and Friends Club bagged the title. This time the story is different. There won’t be, for sure, the two birthday cup tournaments nor there will be two champions.

In all, 18 teams are taking part in the tournament, which includes three Indian clubs — City Young FC of Dehra Dun, West Sikkim FA and United Kurseong. One thing is common among the visiting teams — all are from Nepali-based societies of India.

The local teams, who have by and large revised their squads and strategies during the break, will face stiff challenge from their ‘A’ division rivals. On the other hand, Gyanendra Armed Police Force are enjoying direct entry to the ‘A’ division. Generally, a team enters the ‘A’ division after playing at least three tournaments, and only if they qualify. But here the APF got the ANFA nod to play in the ‘A’ division without playing any qualifiers. Three-time champions Manang Marsyangdi Club have signed youngsters Bikash Malla, Birat Thapa, Sandip Rai, and Prashant Giri, after their midfielder Rajesh Shahi joined Three Star Club to play in the AFC President’s Cup.

In the 25-edition history of the tournament, the visiting teams have won six times, while RNAC won the title five times. Mahendra Police Club have lifted the title thrice. League champions Three Star Club, who are yet to win the title but showed their mettle in the recently concluded AFC President’s Cup, MMC and the policemen are the favourites this time around. Out of the visiting three clubs, City Young FC of Dehra Dun, West Sikkim Football Association directly enter the quarter-finals, while United Kurseong have to play two matches to reach the last eight. Three Star, MPC, MMC and Tribhuvan Army Club, who finished top four in the last year’s league, have first-round byes. The winner will be richer by Rs 100,000, while the runner-up will bag Rs 50,000.