Nerve-wracking football in store as defending champions Nepal take on Bhutan for the title clashNo longer underdogs, the Dragon Boys are playing their first major final and have nothing to lose.
A nerve-wracking football finale is in store as defending champions Nepal play against Bhutan on the closing day of the 13th South Asian Games on Tuesday.
If Nepal win, they will level Pakistan’s record of four golds in the men’s football tournament at the regional sporting spectacle, but it is not going to be easy to play Bhutan.
No longer underdogs, the Dragon Boys are playing their first major international final and contending for a first gold in the Games—and they have nothing to lose.
“Despite losing against Nepal in the league stage, Bhutan have played well to get to the final. They are good going forward while Nepal’s weakness lies in the backline,” football analyst Sanjeeb Mishra told the Post on the eve of the title clash.
"If Nepal are to win, they must not miss the chances they create,” Mishra added. “In the final, both teams play to win and the opportunities are often very limited. Nepal’s midfield has to hold the ball, keep possession of the ball and capitalise on set-pieces. They have been wasting a lot of set-pieces lately."
“Having beaten Bhutan in the league stage, Nepal would still be confident in the final. I expect them to win,” said Mishra.
Nepal head into the football finale unbeaten while Bhutan had suffered their only defeat in the league stage against Nepal. After securing a 1-0 win against Bangladesh in their opening match, Bhutan were humbled 4-0 by the hosts the very next day.
The home side, who had lost the 1999 final at home against Bangladesh, stormed into the finals dropping points only against Sri Lanka in their second match as the hosts were held at a 1-1 draw. Nepal then came back from behind to win against the Maldives 2-1 before securing a hard-fought 1-0 win against Bangladesh.
Nepal have scored 8 goals, conceding just two, while Bhutan have found the back of the net on 6 occasions, conceding 5.
However, following their defeat to Nepal, Bhutan have exhibited an improved performance with two successive wins to secure their berth at the gold medal clash. Bhutan finished second in the league stage only behind Nepal with a 2-1 win over the Maldives before brushing aside Sri Lanka 3-0.
Talking to the Post after his team’s evening training session on Monday, Bhutan’s coach Pema Dorje said his squad is positive and prepared for the match, which could go anywhere.
“We can’t say for sure. Nepal is preparing accordingly but we have to win,” said Dorje. “We want to go home with one gold at least.”
In the past, Nepal won gold at the first 1984 Games held in Kathmandu, followed by a second win at the 1993 edition in Dhaka after which there was a 23-year drought before they finished top to bring home the title after a 1-0 win against hosts India in 2016.
“We hope to beat Bhutan again to win the gold medal,” said Nepal head coach Bal Gopal Maharjan, a former striker and member of the winning squad in 1993. “I am confident that we will do it.”