Nepal face a daunting task of defending the Bangabandhu Gold Cup football tournament title as they open their campaign with a match against Tajikistan at the Sylhet District Stadium in Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Nepal left for Bangladesh with any real preparations and their participation was only confirmed on September 23. Despite the shortcoming, Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan is setting sights on upsetting the mighty Central Asia opponents in the Group ‘A’ clash on Tuesday.
“Tajikistan are superior to us in aspect of the game. They are physique imposing as well as tactically technical sound than us,” said the former national team captain Maharjan on the eve of the match. “But if we execute our plans to perfection and keep patience we can outwit them for sure. Upsets are part of the game and we try to earn at least one if not the whole three points. Our past experiences of playing the team will also come in handy,” added Maharjan who has Kiran Shrestha as his deputy and Nabin Maharjan as goalkeeping coach.
Nepal have played twice against the Central Asian side during the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier in 2017 where Nepal lost both the home and away matches. On home soil, Nepal lost 2-1 at the ANFA Complex in September before losing 3-0 away in Hishor. The current Fifa rankings also suggests the gulf between the two teams as Tajikistan lie at the 120th and Nepal languish at 160th position. The other opponents in the group, Palestine, are placed at 100th position. Top two finishers of the group progress to the semi-final.
Despite not having tournament specific training, Maharjan believes the busy tournament schedule in the run-up to the event has complement the team very well. Nepal recently took part in the SAFF Championship and Asian Games football while then immediately joining their clubs for the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League. “We have recently played SAFF Championship and Asian Games. The players then were under training with their clubs for the league,” Maharjan said. Nepal had crashed out of the semi-final in the SAFF Championship held on September 4-15 in Dhaka.
Nepal have made only two changes to the SAFF squad as first choice goalie Kiran Chemjong has been replaced by Bishal Shrestha and Tej Tamang comes in for versatile midfielder-cum-defender Rohit Chand. Chemjong and Chand was excused for their club commitments abroad. Chemjong plied his trade in Maldives and Chand in Indonesia.
Goalkeeper: Bishal Shrestha, Bikesh Kuthu, Alan Neupane; Defender: Dinesh Rajbansi, Devendra Tamang, Biraj Maharjan (C), Ananta Tamang, Aditya Chaudhary, Tej Tamang, Suman Aryal; Midfielder: Hemant Thapa Magar, Heman Gurung, Bishal Rai, Sunil Bal, Sujal Shrestha, Nirajan Khadka; Forward: Bharat Khawas, Bimal Gharti Magar, Nawayug Shrestha, Anjan Bista