Army set sights on the second roundThe departmental team need to pass three hurdles to qualify for the group stage of the second-tier official club football tournament of the AFC.
Tribhuvan Army Club will eye second rounds of the preliminary stage of the AFC Cup 2021 when they host Sri Lankan league champions Sri Lanka Police SC at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu on Tuesday.
Army, the runners-up of the Martyrs Memorial 'A' Division League, are representing Nepal instead of the champions Machhindra Club in the inter-country club competition as the latter failed to obtain AFC Club licence.
The departmental team, the only 'A' Division outfit to obtain a club licence from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), however, need to pass three hurdles before making into the group stage of the second-tier official club football tournament of the AFC.
This is the first occasion that both premier division sides of the country will be competing in the official event of the AFC Cup.
"As we have set the target of making into the group stage, we don't have any other option than to win the first match to stake claim to the group stage. We will play modern football," said Army coach Nabin Neupane, also the former Nepali international.
"We also have made good preparations for the tournament and the camp began promptly after we were granted the AFC Club licence," said Neupane, whose side started to prepare for the tournament from December 23 last year.
"So we are very much hopeful of getting past the first hurdle," said Neupane, adding that they expected the upcoming rounds to be much tougher than the first round.
If Army win the preliminary first round, they will travel to India to face Bengaluru FC, the Indian Super League side, on April 14. The winners between them will compete in the play off final on April 21. The opponents will be one among Club Eagles (Maldives), Thimphu City (Bhutan) and Abahani Limited Dhaka (Bangladesh).
"As part of preparations for the match, we have played against Kyrgyzstan U-23 and also against the African player-studded African Root Association recently. We have discovered what our weaknesses were and worked on that," said Neupane.
Army captain Bharat Khawas, also Nepali international who did not start in a single match of the Three Nations Cup held last week, said that the match was an opportunity for him and his side to showcase their talent.
"As it is the first international game for the club, we all are super excited for the game. We have been playing together as a team for a long time and we have made good preparations,” said Khawas. "I had to be benched in the Three Nations Cup and it is a good opportunity for me personally to show my strengths and I have worked very hard."
Unlike Army, Sri Lanka Police SC will be boosted by the presence of three foreign recruits in Ghana players including one each in forward, midfield and defence. The team arrived in Nepal on Sunday on the back of more than two months of training.
"We are very happy to be participating in the AFC tournament for the first time," said Sri Lanka Police coach Jhilau Alpensau. "We started training two months ago and we are ready to face our opponents," he said.
Pointing to the four major challenges his side would face, Alpensau said: "Nepal are ranked higher than us in the FIFA rankings. While they are third among the South Asian countries we are at the bottom. But the national ranking and the club football are different things."
"The weather condition in Nepal is different than ours and we don't have national players like that of Nepal. Home condition and Nepali crowd would also be a plus point for the hosts," he added.
Nepali international strikers Khawas and Nawayug Shrestha will take charge of the attacking department in addition to George Prince Karki. Santosh Tamang, Sesehang Angdamgbe and Dinesh Henjan are likely to be deputed to midfield while Bikash Khawas, Bikash Tamang, Suman Aryal and Deepak Gurung are expected to play in the defence line-up.
Bikesh Kuthu will take charge of the post.