Church Boys cap fairytale run with ‘A’ Division League crownThey won the ‘C’ Division title in their first attempt in 2021 and ‘B’ Division League the following year.
Church Boys United (CBU) wrote one of the most extraordinary tales in the history of Nepali domestic football on Tuesday as they clinched the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League title to become the only second team to win ‘C’, ‘B’ and ‘A’ divisions in consecutive seasons after Manang Marshyangdi Club.
CBU played a goalless stalemate with Three Star Club at the Dasharath Stadium and that was enough to hand coach Bal Gopal Maharjan’s side the historic prize with a match in hand. They have 45 points from 12 wins, nine draws and four defeats.
Record-eight time champions Manang had achieved a similar feat when they won the trophy in their first appearance in the A-Division League in 1986.
The outcome meant that Machhindra Club—who still have two games remaining—will not be able to overtake CBU, who now have a six-point lead and boast a better head-to-head record against Kishor Kumar KC’s men.
But the dark side of CBU’s storied season is their ineligibility to take part in the 2023-24 AFC Cup preliminary round one in the capacity of domestic league champions as they are yet to obtain AFC Club licence which is mandatory for participation in the AFC tournaments.
“We came to learn during the middle-part of the league that we would not be eligible to play the AFC Preliminary Cup even if we win the trophy. It feels bad because we have worked really hard for this success,” said CBU forward and Nepal international Anjan Bista, who has scored seven times for his side this season.
CBU’s disqualification means Machhindra—who surrendered the title race to CBU after losing 2-1 to Nepal Police Club on Sunday—are the favourites for the AFC spot. Machhindra have 39 points from 24 matches.
Third-placed Police are also in the race. Police recovered from a one-goal deficit to play a 1-1 draw against Tribhuvan Army Club at the ANFA Complex after Ahmad Hijazi’s 39th-minute strike cancelled out Dinesh Henjan’s second-minute lead for Army.
The result moved Police one place up to the third spot with 38 points, while Army are seventh with 31 points.
“Machhindra are likely to qualify for the AFC Cup preliminary round. Whoever progresses to the Preliminary Cup, they will be representing Nepal and I wish them all the best.” Bista added.
Still, it is a fitting climax to the Balkumari-based side who, after getting promoted to the premier division, signed the likes of the country's top footballers in Anjan, Ananta Tamang and Arik Bista.
The new champions started their season perfectly under coach Pradip Humagain, winning three games in a row. But after four consecutive draws, American citizen Humagain left the club due to issues with work permit.
And the appointment of Maharjan, one of Nepal’s most successful coaches, was a perfect choice.
“I am elated to win the league. The credit goes to each and every member of the team including players, management and all others involved. Teamwork, hard effort of the players and their zeal were instrumental in our success,” said Maharjan, who also won his first ‘A’ Division League trophy as a coach.
The former Three Star and Manang coach Maharjan had won the league in 2004 as a player with Three Star.
“The combination of discipline, tactical and technical aspects, understanding between overseas and domestic players, motivation factor and sound management helped us get to this height,” said Maharjan.
“It was really challenging to win the league played in the home and away format [double leg]. To win the trophy with a match in hand is really exciting, and all credit goes to our teamwork.”
Following their qualification in the ‘C’ Division League in 2019, CBU have never looked back. They won the ‘C’ Division title in their first attempt in 2021 and ‘B’ Division League the following year. Now, they have established themselves as a new powerhouse in domestic football.
With the champions crowned four days before the conclusion of the league, the attention will now turn to the relegation battle with around half of the sides in the 14-team contest in danger of falling into the second-tier competition.
For three-time champions Three Star, the draw is a hammer blow to their hopes of saving the season. Their winless run has now stretched to 14 matches and they now risk being relegated to the ‘B’ Division League for the first time in the club’s history.
Three Star have 29 points from 25 matches—two points above the drop zone, meaning, they must beat Jawalakhel Youth Club in their last match and pray for other results to go in their favour to have any chance of survival.
Jawalakhel—who fell off the title battle after losing to CBU 3-0 on Saturday despite flapping their wings inside the top two for most of the season—lost 1-0 against Satdobato Youth Club in the day’s late fixture at the Dasharath Stadium after Sardorbek Matmuratov’s 74th-minute strike proved decisive. The win secured Satdobato’s stay in the premier division league with 35 points.
Other newcomers Khumaltar Youth Club survived to fight another day after they defeated Armed Police Force Club 3-1. Messouke Oloumou scored twice in the first half and Stephane Binong bundled in the third six minutes after the restart that moved Khumaltar one position up to 13th with 27 points. Sanish Shrestha scored the consolation goal for APF in the third minute of the second half stoppage time.
Friends sit at the bottom of the 14-team standings with 26 points but have played a game less. Friends play Sankata on Wednesday.