Nepal head coach Kalin stresses on the need of fitnessJohan Kalin says he is looking for better performance rather than results in the Qualifiers.
Nepal's head coach Johan Kalin is stressing on the need of players' fitness ahead of their 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup preliminary joint qualification matches which starts with a clash against Kuwait on September 5.
The Swede made the message loud and clear by axing out Biraj Maharjan, who had been captaining Nepal since November 2016, for a friendly against Malaysian Super League champions Johor Darul Ta'zim FC on August 26. The friendly is part of Nepal's preparations for the Qualifiers. The 28-year-old was ignored for the friendly despite the defender being under a regular training. "Fitness is an issue for sure. I don't want to field players who do not survive the physical demands of the game," he said adding that Maharjan's exclusion was a message to others.
"Everyone is putting in hard work during training but we pick those who are fitter and better," said Kalin, who took over the national team rein on March 1. "One big problem I found here (Nepal) is that the clubs don't contract players round the year and they don't get chance to play more often," said Kalin whose team is scheduled to play Taiwan, Australia and Jordan on home-and-away format from September to June next year. Their campaign starts with an away game against Kuwait on September 5.
The Swede is yet to taste victory having led Nepal in four international friendlies since taking over job. He led Nepal in a two-match friendly series against Kuwait in March but drew one and lost 1-0 in another. Also against Malaysia on June 2, Nepal lost 2-0 before playing a 1-1 draw against Taiwan four days later.
Kalin considers his team as heavy underdogs against the likes of Australia and Kuwait. But he is determined to put in best performance owing to the hard work of his team. "We have been training six sessions a week. We are trying to focus on what we can do on the pitch," he said.
Nepal were originally drawn to host Kuwait on September 5 and Taiwan on September 10 in their first two matches. But due to unavailability of Dashrath Stadium, which is currently undergoing renovation for the 13th South Asian Games, Nepal flipped the fixtures on mutual consent with their opponents. Nepal will now play their first two games away from home. "Playing away match first is always tough. But we don't have a choice due to the unavailability of ground," said Kalin.
Kalin is expecting a tough match against Kuwait. "They are having a really good preparation and fared really well in recently held West Asian Championship where they beat Saudi Arabia and drew Jordan. They also drew the likes of UAE, Egypt and Iraq in international friendlies. They also made trips to England for preparations. It all adds up to their strength. But we have a good idea on how to tackle them. If we are on top of our games, we have the ability to trouble them. In any case, we will look for performance not result... All I can promise is that we will do our best," he said.
Kalin is aware that Kuwait were closely monitoring his team's recent progress. "Naturally every team takes to the field to win and we are not an exception. The reality, however, is that getting result in our favour against Kuwait would be really tough," said the coach. "I expect our boys to enter the pitch with respect but without any fear."
National team midfielder Bishal Rai was satisfied with the way their training was going. "Our pace has increased remarkably and the friendly against the Malaysian outfits which will test our fitness level," said the 26-year-old. "Our recent style of play is such that whole team goes simultaneously on attack as well as defense. It demands every player to be fit."
Kalin said drawing against any other teams would be equally difficult at this stage of the Qualifiers. "We could have avoided Australia or Kuwait but would have ended up meeting with China or Japan. So, I don't want to say that we were drawn in weak or strong pool." Rather than eyeing for qualification, he said that his objective was to make the Qualifier a stepping stone for improving his team's performance.
The Nepali team has been training at the artificial turf at the ANFA Complex in Satdobato but they will have to play their away matches at natural grass. The shift of playing surface can also hamper Nepal's performance, says Kalin. Ever since taking over the team, Kalin has been working on organisation, team building and style. But the coach said it takes a lot of time to achieve that goal.In all, 40 teams of Asia are divided into eight groupsof five teams each. Eight group winners and four best runners-up will secure placesto the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Finals in China as well as the final round ofqualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The remaining 24, except forthe four bottom-placed teams, who fail to pass the joint Qualifier hurdle, willhave another shot at earning tickets to the AFC Asian Cup. The 24 teams willfight it out for another 12 berths for the Asian Cup.