KATHMANDU, JUNE 11
Nepal faced a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Australia in the last match of the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium in Kuwait City today.
Skipper Mathew Leckie, Fran Karacic and Martin Boyle scored one goal each for Australia, who recorded their seventh straight victory in the campaign. Australia had defeated Nepal 5-0 in the first leg match in September 2019 in Canberra. With the loss, Nepal - who registered two wins, both against Chinese Taipei, in the eight matches played under the joint qualifiers - are likely enter the playoff round for the third round qualification of the Asian Cup.
Australia, who are 41st in the FIFA rankings and third in Asia, opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Leckie headed home following a cross from Aziz Behich that left Nepal goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu stranded. Australia's Karacic doubled the tally in 38th minute when he found the back of the nets from close range after being fed by skipper Leckie, who cut back into the six-yard box for the unmarked defender to shoot past diving Nepali custodian Limbu.
Nepal were unlucky moments before the first half whistle after Rohit Chand was adjudged to have brought down Martin Boyle outside the box and Omani referee Ahmed Abu Baker Alkaf showed a straight red card to the Nepali defender. The Socceroos put relentless pressure on Nepal after the resumption and that paid off in the 57th minute when Boyle made an easy tapin from close range to make it 3-0 following a perfect pass from Jackson Irvine.
Earlier, Nepal skipper Limbu punched out Boyle's corner in the 14th minute and he recovered on time to block a powerful shot from the same player in rebound. Limbu stood firm in the 30th minute when he made a brilliant save to deny Ajdin Hrustic's curling free kick from the edge of the box. Nepal defender Ananta Tamang intercepted on time to block Mathew Leckie's powerful shot from inside the box in the 35th minute, while Nepal custodian Limbu denied Martin Boyle in the 40th minute.
Nepal lost key defender Rohit Chand just before the break but the Socceroos were not able to capitalise much on the numerical advantage despite creating a number of opportunities.
Boyle shot wide from inside the box in the 50th minute and he ended up side netting a minute later. Ajdin Hrustic's long range shot went wide off the target in the 55th minute before Boyle made it 3-0 two minutes later. Leckie's header struck against the post in the 59th minute.
Ajdin Hrustic shot into the hands of Nepal glovesman Limbu in the 76th minute, while the custodian made a double save in the 84th minute to save his side from further loss. The match will be a memorable one for three Nepali players Suraj Jeu Thakuri, Ayush Ghalan and Kamal Thapa as the trio made their national team debut, albeit in the injury time.
After the final match of the campaign, Nepal finished at the fourth position in the fiveteam table with six points, while Australia are assured of the top spot following their seventh win. Jordan are second on 13 points from six matches, followed by Kuwait (10). Chinese Taipei, who have faced defeats in seven matches played so far, are at the bottom.
The 40 Asian teams in the second round have been divided into eight pools and the group winners along with four best runners-up will make it to the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification as well as qualify for the AFC Asian Cup.
As per the format, the next 16 highest ranked teams - remaining four group runners-up, eight third-placed teams and the four best fourthplaced teams - will directly advance to the third round of Asian Cup qualification. The remaining 12 teams will enter the play-off round to contest for the remaining eight spots.
A version of this article appears in the print on June 12, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.