Nepal looking to lift maiden SAFF titleAlmutairi’s men will open their campaign taking on hosts Maldives in the sub-continental football tournament today.
Yet to win the title of SAFF Championship, Nepal will vie against defending champions and hosts Maldives in the opening match of the sub continental football tournament at the National Football Stadium in Male on Friday.
Going into the 13th edition of the biennial games, Nepal have never progressed beyond semi-final and Abdullah Almutairi's men will be aiming to secure a place in the final of the event scheduled from October 1 to 16.
However, only five teams will be competing in the fifth edition of the game, unlike seven teams in the past as Bhutan and Pakistan will not be competing this time. The event will take place in a round-robin format and the top two finishers at the end of the league will directly book place for finals.
Nepal's best run in the tournament dates back to 1995, 2011, 2013 and 2018 when they were knocked out from the semi-final. In the inaugural edition in 1993, known as SAFF Gold Cup until 2003, Nepal had finished third in the game contested by four teams and played in a round-robin format.
Before the team's departure for a two-week long training camp to Qatar, Nepal's Kuwaiti coach Almutairi had vowed to return with better results than in the past editions. "Obviously we will fight for the title. If that doesn't happen, we will try to secure a better position than in the past," he had said.
Nepal played two friendlies in Qatar against a local team and Oman. Nepal lost 2-7 against Oman.
Following their match against the hosts Maldives on Friday, Nepal will play against Sri Lanka on Monday, India on October 10 and Bangladesh on October 13.
Hosts Maldives and seven times champions India appear to be the favourites to win the contest. However, there is not much difference in the level of all five participating teams and between the five competing teams yet to win the silverware.
"Maldives are a strong team and they will also have home advantage apart from being the defending champions," said Nepal's assistant coach Kiran Shrestha during pre match conference on Thursday. "But we will try our best to lift the trophy this time."
Nepal's skipper and goalkeeper Kiran Limbu expects tough competition in the tournament. "Every match will be tough. Maldives will also have the advantage of home fans and ground. But it won't matter much because we are ready to fight to win every game," said Limbu, adding that Nepal have a balanced side with a combination of young and senior players.
In the past records, the two sides have played seven times in SAFF Championship and Nepal have never defeated them. While Maldives have won five games, they have played two draws. In the last edition of the games in 2018, Nepal were knocked out by Maldives from the semi-final losing the game 3-0 who ultimately won the title.
Nepal, who have been playing in a 4-3-3 formation after the arrival of Kuwaiti coach, will give continuity to the same format of play.
Nawayug Shrestha is likely to be paired with Aashish Lama and Anjan Bista upfront. Rohit Chand, Ananta Tamang, Dinesh Rajbanshi and Gautam Shrestha are likely to be deployed as defenders. Pujan Uperkoti, Tej Tamang and Nitin Thapa could be deployed as midfielders while Limbu will take charge of the post.