Nepal launch title defence with 4-0 win over BhutanCaptain Sujal Shrestha leads by example with a brace. The home team take on Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Defending champions Nepal began their South Asian Games football campaign with a comfortable 4-0 win over Bhutan in front of the cheering home crowd at the Dashrath Stadium on Tuesday.
Captain Sujal Shrestha completed a brace scoring on either side of half time and Nepal added two goals through Abhishek Rijal and Mikchen Tamang in the second half to finish on top of the team standings.
Nepal and Bhutan each have three points, but the hosts lead the table on goal difference. The top two sides from the five-team competition will play the final. Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka are other teams in the fray.
Nepal, playing at the stadium after more than four years, made it all the more memorable with an impressive win.
“Today was a happy day for all the ardent football followers in Nepal, as we got to witness Nepal in action at the Dashrath Stadium after a long gap,” Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan said after the match.
“The efforts of the past four months have started to pay off,” Maharjan said on Nepal’s performance against Bhutan. But he is careful to keep the team’s feet firmly on the ground.
“We’ve got a long way to go in the tournament, as all the opponents are strong. We cannot underestimate anyone.”
After an impressive interplay, Shrestha ahead put Nepal ahead in the fifth minute, putting away from inside the box.
Bhutan, who pulled off a stunning 1-0 win over Bangladesh on Monday, responded to the deficit pressing themselves upon Nepali defence. They were duly awarded a free-kick just outside the area three minutes later. But a cheeky attempt from Dawa Tshering was off target.
Nepal maintained better possession and put pressure back on Bhutan. Bikash Khawas went close to scoring in the 27th minute only to see his long cross almost from the halfway line ricocheted off the bar.
Nepal won two more freekicks in the span of two minutes with 13 minutes before half time. But the hosts failed to produce anything out of them.
Nepal continued their pressing game when the match resumed. And Shrestha completed a brace in the 50th minute. Ananta Tamang whipped in a cross into the box from the left and the captain chipped the ball past Bhutan goalkeeper Gyeltshen Zangpo to put Nepal 2-0 up.
Nepal’s short one-two passes unlocked Bhutanese defence in the 66th minute as Abhishek Rijal met another superb Ananta cross with a superb header to extend the lead to 3-0.
In the 77th minute, Mikchen Tamang virtually secured Nepal’s victory as he whipped a left-footed shot into the back of the net from a freekick 25 yards out.
Having led the team by example, Shrestha could hardly contend his delight. “We went for attack right from the first minute, and the result was a good one,” he said. “However, we cannot be complacent as we have four more matches to play [in the league stage]. The team’s objective is to win gold, so we cannot lose our momentum.”
Nepal play against Sri Lanka on Wednesday. The match kicks off at 5pm.
On their next opponents, Maharjan who was leading Nepal’s Under-23 side for the first time said, “Based on our assessment and having seen them play yesterday, Sri Lanka are relatively stronger side."
“We will have to make a strategy based on our analysis of what we have seen of them.”
However, Maharjan has some concerns over the tight schedule. “Playing back-to-back matches is a tough ask. This is against the professional norms,” he said, referring to the FIFA regulation that stipulates a minimum of 48-hour rest for players between two competitive matches.