Nepal’s home fixtures still uncertain due to coronavirus fearsNepal scheduled to host Taipei, Australia and Jordan. FIFA to make confirmation only after assessment of situation in Nepal.
Nepal's revised fixtures for the Asian qualifiers of FIFA World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023, postponed due to Covid-19 pandemic, are still uncertain although the Asain Football Confederation has published the revised fixtures dates.
Nepal are set to play the remaining three home matches of Group B against Chinese Taipei, Australia and Jordan by November 12 with the first on October 8. But the FIFA and AFC will finalise the matches only after assessment of the home country’s situation, according Indraman Tuladhar, general secretary of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA)..
"Our responsibility is to update them about the situation of Covid-19 in the country. It is up to them to decide if the matches will take place on the revised dates or not. But it has already been postponed for a long time and they are in a hurry to hold the games," said Tuladhar.
Had the matches take place as per the original fixture dates Nepal should have played those three remaining matches by June 9.
"We will follow all the safety regulations and guidelines set by FIFA and AFC. But If FIFA and AFC conclude that the situation is not favourable to host the event in Nepal then fixtures will be further postponed," added Tuladhar.
Though shifting matches to neutral venues could be an option, Tuladhar sees very slim chances of it. “Other countries are also equally affected by the pandemic, so I don’t think the matches would be shifted to neutral venues,” he said.
Apart from Chinese Taipei, Australia and Jordan, the five team group also consists of Kuwait. Nepal played their first four matches of the qualifiers at away venues due to unavailability of a stadium that met international standards. The only international stadium – Dasharath Stadium was undergoing renovation after the April 2015 earthquake and also for the South Asian Games held in December last year.
Nepal had to play their home match against Kuwait on November 19 last year at a neutral venue in Thimphu, Bhutan after the AFC inspection team adjudged under-renovation stadium unfit to host the international games.
National team’s key member Sujal Shrestha believes that playing at home ground makes a big difference. "Playing at home ground and familiar conditions is always an advantage. It makes home team players mentally strong and playing in front of home supporters adds to the strength of the team," said Shrestha who plays as a winger in 'A' Division League winners Machhindra Club.
Meanwhile, ANFA have called 34 players for the preliminary selection of the national squad in preparation for the remaining qualifiers. All but one have reported to the camp.
"The players belonging to departmental teams (Police, Army and Armed Police Force) and those who have their house or rented rooms in Kathmandu have been asked to self-quarantine. ANFA will arrange for quarantine at hotels for eight players who do not have rooms in Kathmandu,” said national team manager Madhu Sudhan Upadhyaya.
ANFA have announced the start of the national team training from August 17.
In preparation, it is planning to conduct PCR tests of all 34 players, coaches and other staff to be involved during the training. “We are in consultation with doctors and they have suggested us to keep players in separate quarantine rather than single quarantine in the initial phase,” said Upadhyaya. “The PCR test will be conducted by August 8 of late and the players will be kept together at ANFA hostel after the results of the test.”
Despite the plans to start training after two weeks, national team head coach Johan Kalin is still at his home country Sweden. “As of now, his return to Nepal is uncertain, because the Swedish government has imposed travel restrictions to Nepal. We are in touch with him and he will return once the travel restriction is lifted by Sweden.His deputy Kiran Shrestha and goalkeeping coach Bikash Malla will conduct training in his absence,” said Upadhyaya.
Nepal have lost 7-0 to Kuwait, 5-0 to Australia and 3-0 to Jordan in their away matches before beating Chinese Taipei 2-0 in their second match of the campaign. In Nepal's home match played at a neutral venue in Thimphu they were defeated 1-0 by Kuwait. Australia occupy top spot in the group with 12 points winning all four matches while Nepal are fourth in the five team group with three points.
The double round-robin qualifiers are being played on home and away format. As per the new fixture dates, Nepal are set to host Chinese Taipei on October 8, Australia on October 13 and Jordan on November 12.
Altogether 40 teams of Asia are divided into eight groups of five teams each. The eight group winners and four best runners-up will secure places to the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Finals in China as well as the final round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The remaining 24, except for the four bottom placed teams, who fail to pass the joint qualifiers hurdle will have another shot at earning tickets to the AFC Asian Cup. These 24 teams will fight it out for another 12 berths for the Asian Cup.