Nepal rues missed chances in Maldives stalemateManish Dangi scores an equaliser to salvage a point for the two-time defending champions.
Nepal were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against Maldives in their opening match of the SAFF U-18 Football Championship at Halchowk grounds in Kathmandu on Friday.
Nepal created plenty of chances but failure to convert those into goals saw the defending champions share the spoils in their first match. Maldives drew first blood through a penalty in front of hundreds of Nepali supporters in the 13th minute when Roshan Dong brought down Maldives captain Hassan Nazeem inside the box. Nazeem stepped in to take the resulting penalty and beat goalkeeper Bishal Sunar with his powerful right-footed shot.
Seven minutes later, Nepal had a wonderful chance to level the scores but Brijesh Chaudhary’s double shot was foiled by Hassan Aleef. Aleef also stopped the rebound when the initial shot fell right into the feet of Chaudhary. Apart from Chaudhary’s chance, it was an uneventful first half for both the teams.
Nepal turned on the screw in the second half creating a string of chances but missed the finishing touch to level the scores. Chaudhary saw his 53rd minute shot sailing wide and another opportunity by Nepali skipper Jaya Gurung was denied by Aleef. The best of the chances probably fell to Manish Dangi in the 66th minute. Dangi ran past Maldives defender on the left and instead of passing the ball to his partners waiting inside the box, Dangi went for glory only to hit a poor shot straight to the goalkeeper. Five minutes later, Nitin Thapa’s powerful drive from a corner came off the bar.
Dangi finally atoned for his earlier mistake by rising to meet Chaudhary’s cross from the left and headed it behind Aleef’s clutches to level the tie in the 74th minute. Following the equalizer, Nepal pressed hard for the winner with substitute Darshan Gurung, Nitin Thapa all coming close but were undone by Aleef, who stood against all of them and received a good support from his stubborn defence lineup.
Maldives coach Shazly Mohamed was happy to share the spoils. “We knew Nepal were strong and had prepared accordingly. Our target was not to lose against Nepal and we played a defensive match which paid off,” said Shazly. Shazly also praised his defenders, saying they were lucky to see some of the strikes come off the post. He criticised the pitch saying it was not good enough to host such a tournament. “The pitch was poor. Luckily it did not rain today,” he added.
Nepal head coach Chet Narayan Shrestha also agreed on the condition of the pitch. “It became soft due to the rain. It is very hard to run with the ball in such a pitch,” said Shrestha. Shrestha said they adopted an attacking strategy against the Maldives with the wingers crossing in the middle for the striker to score. “Unfortunately, we could not play as we planned in the first half. We improved in the second half but were unlucky not to score more,” said Shrestha.
Defending champions Nepal will now play against Bhutan on Sunday. India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are in the other group. Nepal have won the past two editions of the tournament defeating India on penalties in 2015 and Bangladesh in 2017. The first time Nepal won the title was when the tournament was played as the U-19 event. The second time in 2017, it was into the U-18 tournament.