By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA
In a crucial fixture, the national football team of Nepal takes on Tajikistan in the 2019 Asian Football Confederation Asia Cup Qualifiers in Kathmandu.
For both teams, it has been a tale of struggle in the competition in terms of results so far. Evidently, they have to turn things around to keep their slim chances alive. Otherwise, they exit the tournament.
In the F Group standings, Nepal with a point sits third, while Tajikistan at rock bottom is yet to open its account. Likewise, the other two teams, Philippines and Yemen with six and four points respectively are at the top and strongly positioned.
This is a game of immense importance, which both teams are aware of. They need maximum points from the tie to stay in the competition. The goal is victory, and nothing short of victory will be good enough.
This is the first meeting between the two sides. The home team, however, goes into the match against the visitors with the favorites tag. The big question on everyone’s mind is, can they justify their favorites tag? Time will tell.
I will say this though, the subdued, sloppy, inconsistent and predictable Nepal performance we have seen far too often will get them nowhere. The need of the hour is a bounce back performance.
Obviously, there is intense pressure on the team to succeed. Coach Koji Gyotoku boys have not played well in this competition and have looked a very ordinary outfit. They will have to up the ante and play to their potential. Players must rise to the occasion and go that extra mile to help their team succeed.
Though the team is loaded with talent and experience, they have pretty much struggled to live up to expectations. It is now or never for some key players who must step up their respective games. Either step up now or it is never going to happen.
In my opinion, the offense is still a question mark and a major worry. Goal scoring has literally declined and dried up and hurting the team at the same time. Unless they start scoring, nothing will get better for the team.
The attacking trio of Bimal Gharti Magar, Nawayug Shrestha, and Bharat Khawas has been inconsistent and going through a dry spell. They must rediscover their scoring touch in time.
More important, they have to overcome lack of finishing and a poor performance. In two matches, they have scored just once against the Philippines. The fact of the matter is, the team is sans genuine quality strikers.
The midfield marshaled by experienced Rohit Chand, Bikram Lama, Sujal Shrestha, Anjan Bista, Bikram Lama and Bishal Rai has not struck the right cord and struggled to make the impact Coach Gyotoku would have wanted. They have to come up with a big play.
In defense skipper, Biraj Maharjan along with Aditya Chaudhary, Devendra Tamang, Kamal Shrestha, and Ananta Tamang must improve their fundamental techniques and play under pressure. Lately, they have struggled quite a bit against stronger, bigger physical teams. Once again they will be put to the test by Tajikistan that enjoys a physical advantage.
In Kiran Chemjong, Nepal has a solid, reliable high-class custodian. That said, mental and match fitness of players will have a big impact on their over all performance. It remains to be seen. Despite a string of defeats, home fans still have high expectations and are hoping to see their team win.
On the other hand, Tajikistan at 151 compared to Nepal’s 169 in FIFA rankings is a fairly formidable side and have the potential to turn the tide in their favor. Unlike goal-shy Nepal, they have good strikers who can score at will given scoring opportunities.
Also, they are expected to take advantage of their physical superiority. I expect them firing on all cylinders, go all out for the victory to avoid the wooden spoon.
Never mind the home field advantage Nepal enjoys. Everyone knows it does not guarantee victory. They will have to play their best to beat the opposition. I would say it is a fifty-fifty chance for both teams.