Nepal start title defence against KyrgyzstanThe two-time champions are expected to face stern challenges due to the addition of India and Kazakhstan.
Two time defending champions Nepal women volleyball team will start their title defence taking on Kyrgyzstan on Monday in the third game of Central Asian Volleyball Association (CAVA) Women’s Volleyball Challenge Cup at the Dasharath Stadium covered hall.
Nepal, the champions of the last two editions of AVC Central Zone Women’s Volleyball Championship held in Bangladesh, will be aiming to retain the title, now branded as CAVA Challenge Cup. However, the tournament will be different from the first two editions with eight participating teams in comparison to five, in Bangladesh.
Kazakhstan and India will be new additions to the tournament. Nepal are in Group ‘A’ of the tournament draw comprising Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and India, while Group ‘B’ is studded with Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Kazakhstan. The top two finishers of each group will progress to the semifinal.
Uzbekistan will take on Sri Lanka in the first match on Monday before Bangladesh play against India in the second match. Nepal will play their third match against Kyrgyzstan and Maldives will take on Kazakhstan in the late fixture of the day.
Nepal had played 11 games in the last two editions and maintained their unbeaten winning run. But the addition of India and Kazakhstan means that they are now likely to face stern tests on their home court. In the South Asian Games (SAG) held in December 2019, the hosts Nepal played two games against India and lost both of them – in straight sets at the group stage and 3-2 in the final.
Central Asian country Kazakhstan will be a totally new team for the tournament and Nepal. They are expected to be one of the title contenders.
Nepal national captain Aruna Shahi expressed satisfaction with her side’s preparation though they could not play international friendlies in recent times due to budget crunches. The Nepali team has been preparing for the tournament for the last three months under the Belgian coach Jan De Brandt.
“The preparation under the foreign coach was sound and there are lots of positive changes in the team, compared to the past,” said Shahi.
Nepal however, will be without influential player and spiker Pratibha Mali due to her recurring knee injury. “It is really disappointing that we won’t have our main spiker Mali. But many things have changed under the new coach including team formation and organisation and the team is in good shape despite her absence,” said Shahi, adding that Kazakhstan could be the toughest opponent in the tournament.
“I am hopeful that the long training will enhance our performance in comparison to the past and we have the obvious target of retaining gold,” she said, adding that they had requested the Nepal Volleyball Association for international friendlies similar to ones during the 2019 SAG. “But the Association could not make such arrangements, citing budget crunches. But I am still confident that we are capable of throwing tough challenges to our opponents.”
During the preparation the women’s team played with their male counterparts to improve their skills. “We played with men’s team in training who were stronger than us. We have practised blocks and spikes with them and the skills we learned at training will be very much helpful in the tournament,” she said.
Shahi said the opening match will be important for the team’s run in the tournament. “Though all games are equally important, the opening game against Kyrgyzstan will be key to boosting the confidence and setting the mood,” she said.
Nepal will play their second game against Bangladesh on Tuesday and India the following day before wrapping up the league stage.