Friendlies with Bangladesh will prepare sports for new normal, stakeholders sayNepali footballers will break an eight-month long hiatus when they play two international friendlies in Dhaka next week.
As Nepal prepares to take on Bangladesh for two international friendly football matches next week, Nepali sports fraternity believes that the games will be of significant importance for all of Nepali sporting world.
Nepali sports have come to complete standstill from March since the country went into nationwide lockdown. No domestic or international sports events have taken place since then leaving aside few virtual martial arts games.
“The matches will have significant importance for Nepali sports fraternity and especially football because it will bring football back on the pitch,” said Nepal’s caretaker coach Bal Gopal Maharjan from Dhaka after the team landed in Bangladesh on Thursday.
Maharjan, who has been assigned the role in place of Swedish head coach Johan Kalin stranded at his home country due to travel restrictions, believes that the match will bring positive vibes to ailing Nepali sports.
“To be back on the ground after such a long time was a nice feeling. The most important thing is that football has resumed and we got an opportunity to train at home turf nearly after eight months,” Nepal’s skipper Kiran Chemjong said ahead of the team’s departure on Thursday.
Prior to the departure the Nepali players had a week-long training from October 29
The two friendlies are scheduled on November 13 and 17 at the Bangabandu National Stadium..
“The games will definitely impart a positive message and will also be helpful to prepare the team for national team qualifiers of the World Cup and Asia Cup,” added Maharjan.
The men’s football team were also set to play their remaining three qualifier matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 initially by June before they were postponed twice and have now been scheduled for 2021.
But not everything had gone according to plan for matches in Bangladesh. Of the 35 players called for the training camp, seven players had tested positive for the coronavirus and star midfielder Rohit Chand was left out of the squad owing to Injury picked during a training session.
Apart from Chand, who plays for Persija Jakarta in Indonesia’s premier division league, three of the seven Covid-19 infected players were regular starters.
“We had to leave behind some of our good players due to pandemic and the training period was really short,” said Maharjan who had guided the national team to Bangabandu Gold Cup trophy in 2016 in Bangladesh and U-23 team to South Asian Games men’s football gold in Kathmandu in December last year. “Many players are yet to gain full fitness and three players travelling with us are injured,”
He said that the team will have around a week to train in Dhaka and hopes to improve the fitness level.
The team are quarantined at a hotel for Thursday and Friday. Swab samples of Nepali squad were collected on Thursday and they would go for outdoor training once they get medical report on Saturday.
Nepali team include eight rookie players in Arik Bista, Bikash Khawas, Darshan Gurung, Deep Karki, Dilen Loktam, Pujan Uparkoti, Seshehang Aangdangbe and Chhiring Gurung.
“Though we will miss some of the key players, we also have players of similar levels as replacement, said Maharjan. “There are many youth players in the squad and it would provide a good opportunity for us to check their mettle which would be beneficial to the squad for qualifier matches”
Maharjan was confident of good results against the well known foes.
“Despite the circumstances, we will obviously go with the fighting spirit and try to get results in our favour,” said Maharjan whose side had lost only once in their last five meetings with the South Asian opponents since 2011.
While Nepal won three, Bangladesh won one and the other finished in a 1-1 draw. The last time the two sides played was during 2018 SAFF Championship in Dhaka which saw Nepal beat the hosts 2-0. That team was also managed by Maharjan.
Skipper Kiran Chemjong said that the team was really excited to play football after a long gap. “We are really excited about the matches. But it is also challenging to play after very short preparations and we could have been much better had we got at least a month-long preparation period,”said Chemjong. “Though the outcome is not in our hands we will try to give our best as a team and fight for victory,”
All Nepal Football Association President Karma Tsering Sherpa believes the friendlies would be a stepping stone to resume football.
“Now we have already conducted training camps at home turf and we have to get used to the new normal at the time of pandemic,”said Sherpa. “The matches will definitely push us in our bid of resuming football by following safety guidelines.