New-look Nepal face reality checkNepal are set to play a friendly football match against Asian giants Iraq at the Al Fayhaa Stadium in Basra today with the ambition of fine tuning their preparations for the joint qualifiers of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
New-look Nepal are expected to face a reality check when they play against mighty Iraq in an international friendly football match at the Al Fayhaa Stadium in Basra, Iraq on Saturday.
The squad led by outspoken Kuwaiti coach Abdullah Almutairi will play the match to fine tune their preparations for the team’s remaining three Group ‘B’ matches of the World Cup and AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers set to take place from June 3 to 11 in Kuwait. Similar is the ambition of the Asian powerhouse Iraq who will play their last three matches of the joint qualifiers of group ‘C’.
Nepal landed in Iraq on Wednesday with a majority of youth players, which is a drastic change in comparison to the last Nepal national squad that played Three-Nations Cup at home from March 23 to 29. Coach Almutairi included six new faces in the squad and left out 13 members of the Three-Nations Cup.
His explanation for choosing a new and young squad was: “We are building a team for the future and we must make changes and take a risk.” His approach towards the joint qualifiers was that Nepal had nothing to lose in the tournament as he questioned at a press briefing, “How many international trophies have you [Nepal] won, how many times have you won against Australia?”
Midfielders Kamal Thapa, Suraj Jeu Thakuri, Aysuh Ghalan, Manish Dangi, defender Gautam Shrestha and goalkeeper Bishal Sunar have been included in the national squad for the first time.
Captain and goalkeeper Kiran Limbu, midfielder Rohit Chand, Bishal Rai and forwards Nawayug Shrestha and Anjan Bista are among the senior players in the squad.
In a recent Facebook post, the Kuwaiti has asked Nepali fans to be patient with players and results. “...we will use a new mentality and system and its implementation is going to be difficult at the start. So just don't push on them for results now. We are here for a better tomorrow. If results don't go our way, put the blame on me, not the players.”
Apart from the technically sound Iraqi opponents, Nepal also needs to cope with the hot temperature in Basra. The match will be played in an empty stadium at Nepali standard time 22:15.
“I hope it is going to be a learning experience for our young squad. Rather than seeking the result, it is about evaluating yourself and trying to improve on it in the future," coach Abdullah said on Friday.
Nepal and Iraq have played thrice in the past and the West Asian country won on all occasions. Their last encounter was two decades ago, when Nepal lost 4-2 and 9-1 in April 2001 during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. The other game dates back to 1982 when Nepal lost at an Asian Games match in New Delhi.
The 39-year-old’s cautious approach could be justified given the huge gap in the standards of most of the opponents Nepal are set to play in the next two weeks. Iraq are 103 places superior to Nepal in the latest FIFA World Rankings. While Nepal sit at 171st position in the rankings Iraq are 68th as per the FIFA rankings.
Nepal’s remaining opponents in the joint Qualifiers — Australia, Jordan and Chinese Taipei all hold superior FIFA rankings though Nepal defeated Chinese Taipei 2-0 in the first leg match. Jordan are ranked 95th, Australia 41st and Chinese Taipei 141st. Nepal had gone down 5-0 to Australia and 3-0 to Jordan in their first leg matches played at away venues.
National captain Limbu said the team was ready to play against Iraq. "It’s a great opportunity for Nepal to play against Iraq and it is going to be a good experience for our World Cup Qualifier matches in Kuwait. We have trained well and prepared for it," said Chemjong.
Nepal currently are second from bottom in the Group ‘B’ in the joint qualifiers with three points after playing five matches and Nepal do not have any chance of topping the group. Australia lead the standings with 12 points. However, if Nepal maintain their current position in the standings at the completion of the group rounds they could qualify for the next round qualifiers of the 2023 Asian Cup.
Nepal will take on Chinese Taipei on June 3, Jordan on June 7 and Australia on June 11.
Goalkeepers: Kiran Kumar Limbu, Deep Karki, Bishal Suna
Defenders: Ananta Tamang, Gautam Shrestha, Suman Aryal, Rohit Chand, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Bikash Khawas
Midfielders: Bishal Rai, Sunil Bal, Pujan Uparkoti, Arik Bista, Suman Lama, Manish Dangi, Santosh Tamang, Ayush Ghalan, Suraj Jeu Thakuri, Kamal Thapa,
Forwards: Abhishek Rijal, Aashish Lama, Anjan Bista, Nawayug Shrestha