Nepal, Palestine share points

Kathmandu, March 26:

Spirited Nepali national team was forced to share points with physically-superior Palestine after a goalless draw at the AFC Challenge Cup Group ‘C’ qualifying match here at the Dasharath Stadium today.

Nepal will next play Kyrgyzstan on Saturday while Palestine take on the same opponent on Monday. Winners of the four groups including one best runners up will qualify for the eight-team finals. Defending champions India, Tajikistan and DPR Korea are drawn directly into the finals, slated for India next year.

The home team, whose morale was high after their recent PM Cup Invitational Tournament victory here, entirely dominated the field in the first half. New Road Team (NRT) striker Anil Gurung squandered a golden opportunity side-netting a cross from Vijay Gurung in the 13th minute. Defender Sagar Thapa also shot on target only to be denied by Palestine goalkeeper M Shbair six minute later.

Nepal goalkeeper Bikash Malla thwarted a rare Palestine attack blocking Alamour Ismail’s shot on target in the 26th minute.

Nepal Police Club striker Ju Manu Rai was also unlucky in the 24th minute when his shot from inside the box was blocked by defender N Baraghtha.

After the break, Palestine twice threatened the Nepali goal only to be denied by man of the match Malla. The Tribhuvan Army Club custodian made a brilliant save denying Palestine skipper Ahmed Keshkesh in the 53rd minute. Fahad Attal forced Malla to another equally good save in the 65th minute.

The best chace of the game came Nepal’s way in the 72nd when the home team earned a free kick just outside the d-box line after Palestine goalkeeper was adjudged to have crossed the line with the ball but Ju Manu Rai’s powerful shot hit the woodwork.

Palestine’s Jordanian coach Izzat Hamzeh balmed the unfriendly weather and hard turf for his team’s lackluster performormance. He also expressed dissatisfaction over the refeering decisions. “We were playing against 14 opponents — 11 Nepali players, weather, ground and official,” he said.

“They (Nepal) played better football but it was our worst ever performance,” said Palestine skipper Keshkesh. Keshkesh also said that cautiousness over the rough turf also hampered their game.

Nepal coach Yogamber Man Suwal was happy with his boys. “You don’t get too many chances in such a high-profile game and we missed too many today,” added Suwal. Suwal said there was nothing alarming about the injury carried by skipper Rakesh Shrestha and midfielder Sandeep Rai. “Sandeep can play the next match and hopefully Rakesh will also be fit to play against Kyrgyzstan,” said Suwal.

Rakesh was replaced by defender Deepak Bhusal after the skipper sustained knee injury in the 55th minute, while sriker Santosh Shahukhala came in place of Sandeep in the 73rd minute. “We played better but luck deserted us,” said skipper Rakesh referring to the missed opportunites. He also said that they had tough time piercing through the physically superior opponents.