Nepali booters set sights on third straight SAFF U-18 titleNepal are drawn in Group ‘A’ along with Bhutan and Maldives while Group ‘B’ consists of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Two-time champions Nepal embark on the SAFF U-18 Championship title defence with a match against Maldives at the Nepal APF Club grounds in Halchowk, Kathmandu, on Friday.
After winning the first two editions since the event was organised in 2015, Nepal coach Chet Narayan Shrestha is looking nothing less than the securing the title yet again. "We are raring to go for the tournament," said Shrestha, who finalised his 23-member squad on Tuesday. Although the team captain is yet be announced, Jay Gurung appears front-runner to assume the role. Goalkeeper Rohit Karki and midfielder Dipesh Gurung have been axed out of the squad that were under closed camp training.
Nepal are drawn in Group 'A' along with Bhutan and Maldives while Group 'B' consists of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. After playing Maldives, the hosts will take on Bhutan two days later. Although the tournament is taken as a preparation for the AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers set for October-November, coach Shrestha believes that the outcome here will be a big morale booster ahead of the continental event. "The results in the SAFF U-18 will definitely have an impact on AFC U-19 Qualifiers," said Shrestha who has been overseeing a closed camp training of his team for the last one and a half month.
"As the champions of the last two editions, we definitely will have pressure to win the tournament," he said adding that majority of the players in the current squad had experience of playing at the international tournaments. Most of the players had already participated in the U-14 and U-16 SAFF tournaments as well as AFC events.
Shrestha believes midfield and forward were the strength of his team. "We are a bit weaker in defence in comparison to the out-midfield and forward lineup. We are focusing more on defence in our training," said Shrestha whose team is studded with a majority of ANFA Academy graduates. "Besides Academy products, some of the players even have the experience of playing the top-tier football league. Such an experience counts a lot."
Shrestha rated India as the toughest opponent in the group but was cautious not to underrate any other opponents. "India would be the tough team but Bangladesh were also a strong contender in the last edition played two years ago in Bhutan. I also expect our group stage opponents Maldives and Bhutan to have come up with good preparation. So we are not going to under-estimate any of them," said the coach who has Sanoj Shrestha as his deputy and Chhanu Ram Chaudhary as the goalkeeping coach.
Meanwhile, All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) on Tuesday said all the preparations for the sub-continental tournament were over. The Maldives have already arrived in Kathmandu while other four teams and match officials will arrive by Wednesday. A main Organising Committee has been formed under the ANFA Vice President Bir Bahadur Khadka to run the tournament smoothly. The expected cost of the event is Rs 19 million out of which South Asian Football Federation will provide Rs 1.6 million and ANFA will manage remaining amount through its coffers.
Goalkeeper: Bishal Sunar, Surya Adhikari, Pujan Hona
Defender: Bishal Basnet, Randip Poudel, Padam Bhattarai, Sujan Sharma, Nabin Gurung, Roshan Dong, Alik Rumba, Anjal Maharjan
Midfielder: Sishir Lekhi, Roshan Rana Magar, Akash Buda Magar, Jaya Gurung, Manish Thapa, Kushal Phuyal, Nitin Thapa
Forward: Brijesh Chaudhary, Sachu Gurung, Kailash Lamichhane, Darshan Gurung, Manish Dangi