Bangabandhu and South Asian Games football star Shrestha

Kathmandu, July 15

Nepali football was at its worst. National team had not scored for two years. Six players and officials were accused of match fixing. Youth team was disqualified from AFC Championship for fielding over-age player in qualifiers. FIFA had banned ANFA President Ganesh Thapa for 10 years.

At a time when negativity was at the helm, Nepal got an invitation from Bangladesh Football Federation for Bangabandhu Gold Cup. The ANFA was on two minds when the national team faced yet another embarrassing defeat in the SAFF Championship in Kerala.

Once the ANFA decided to send the national team to Bangladesh, the squad flew to Dhaka with a target of reaching semi-finals of the eight-team tournament. Against all odds, Nepal won one and drew two matches to make it to the semi-finals.

The fans back home were yet not convinced but the team was making incredible run. Nawayug Shrestha opened his national team account and completed a hat-trick against Maldives. He also scored in the final against the U-23 side from Bahrain in the 3-0 victory as Nepal won the first trophy in 23 years.

There was no looking back for Shrestha and Nepali football team from that point. The team members were so busy in felicitation that coach Raju Kaji Shakya got merely one week to prepare for the South Asian Games. Shakya axed three players from Bangabandhu winning squad and headed towards India with heads held high. Nepal made it to the semi-finals with ease. The real test came against Maldives when they trailed 2-0.

To everyone’s surprise, Shrestha led Nepal’s impressive comeback and guided the team to 4-3 victory. He scored the winning goal against India in final to hand the SA Games gold medal after 23 years.

Shrestha’s popularity reached the peak. The success also earned him the nomination in People’s Choice Award in Pulsar Sports Award 2072. He is in race along with Nabita Shrestha (table tennis), Tara Devi Pun (weightlifting), Pratibha Mali (volleyball) and Sandeep Lamichhane (cricket). The winner will be decided by SMS votes and Facebook likes.

The 13th edition of the award – the annual programme of Nepal Sports Journalists Forum – features eight categories. The winners in Male, Female and People’s Choice Award will receive Pulsar bikes, while Youth, Coach, Para-athlete, Special and Lifetime Achievement awards will get Rs 50,000 each along with Dish Home Set Top Box.

Surya Nepal, ISME Pvt Ltd, Dish Home, Avenues Television, THT LIVE, Ruslan Football, National Sports Council, Nepal Olympic Committee, Royal Singi Hotel, Timex, RJ Sports, John Players, Hotel Crown Plaza, Emazing, Nepal Music, All in One Arts Service are the co-sponsors and partners of the programme. The Award ceremony is slated for July 21 at Nepal Academy Hall.

“I had dreamt of playing for the

national team and I did that last year,” said Shrestha, who hails from Mangalbare of Ilam district. “I am happy to be nominated in People’s Choice Award as it came to me as a pleasant surprise,” he added. His family members have started the SMS and Facebook campaign to make Shrestha the winner.