Nepal play Bhutan todayNepal will not take minnows Bhutan lightly when they play host to the visitors in the first edition of the Saff U-19 Championship here at the Anfa Complex on Thursday.
Nepal will not take minnows Bhutan lightly when they play host to the visitors in the first edition of the Saff U-19 Championship here at the Anfa Complex on Thursday.
Nepal are also pooled against Bangladesh in Group ‘A’ and in their bid to reach the semi-finals, they must win the match against Bhutan before preparing for an evenly-contested duel against the Bangladeshis. Nepal are usually considered favourites in the age-group tournaments but considering an improved status of the Bhutanese football, coach Bal Gopal Maharjan warns his team of complacency.
“We cannot afford taking Bhutan lightly. Their football has definitely changed in a short span of time,” said Maharjan on the eve of the match. Maharjan had set for a four-month long preparation for the tournament but the team was distracted by the April 25 Great Quake. However, Maharjan is confident the distraction wouldn’t affect his side’s ambitions.
“This is not a team that we formed for one-off tournament. Most of the boys have been with me for the last four years. Despite the natural disaster, our boys have responded nicely in training,” Maharjan said adding his team is eager to end the trophy drought for Nepal.
The Nepali squad is boosted by the arrival of its skipper Bimal Gharti Magar, who has been undergoing training-cum-trial at the youth team of Belgian outfits Club Brugge. While Gharti Magar will lead the front line with Anjan Bista, Nepal will also pin their hopes on a strong midfield department led by Hemanta Thapa Magar and Kiran Sunar.
Bhutanese football is going through its golden period as it made history by entering the second round of the World Cup Qualifying before losing to China. They produced major upset defeating Sri Lanka in the two-legged Qualifier. The victory saw them take a giant leap in the Fifa rankings and a team that once languished around 200 now stay at the 164th spot.
Nepal are ranked 184th in the world. Bhutan coach Nawang Dhendup believes the achievement of their seniors will be crucial for the youngsters’ showing in the tournament. “Our U-19 team is very motivated by the performance of our seniors. Everyone has arrived here with a goal to win the title and we are not an exception,” said Dhendup.
Bhutan skipper Choki Wangchuk said the familiarity with Nepali football will help them for Wednesday’s game. “We played Nepali team during the U-16 tournaments. We are used to playing against them. We will give our 100 percent,” said Wangchuk.
The Group ‘B’ features Maldives, India and Bangladesh. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are not participating in the tournament.