Players of Nepal U-16 football team attend a training session at the Nepal Army Sports and Physical Training Center in Lagankhel, Lalitpur, on Monday.
KATHMANDU, Sept 19: Nepal is beginning its AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers on Wednesday, which is the second international competition the young footballers are playing in less than a month.
Earlier, Nepal U-15 team had taken part in the SAFF U-15 Championship which was also held in Nepal on August 18-27 at ANFA Complex Ground. Now the same team is vying for the competition of the continental age-group qualifiers.
Nepal had reached the final of SAFF U-15 Championship but failed to lift the trophy on home ground after suffering 2-1 defeat at the hands of India.
Nepal is facing rival India once again at home as the two sides are pitted in group D alongside Iraq and Palestine for the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers. The tournament will be played at Halchowk Stadium, Kathmandu, from September 20 through 24.
Head Coach of the Nepali team Sunil Kumar Shrestha said the target is to qualify for the Asian Championship, defeating tough opponents such as defending champion Iraq and South Asian powerhouse India.
Iraq had won the Championship held two years ago in India defeating Iran in the penalties. Likewise, India is regarded as the strongest team in all age-groups.
“Definitely we are in a tough group, but we won’t give up just because the opponents are tough. Our target is to qualify for the final round so we will give tough fight to all the opponents in the group,” Shrestha told Republica.
A total of 45 Asian nations are participating in the qualifying rounds of the Asian Championship to be held at different venues throughout the continent. The participating teams are divided into 10 groups and the 10 group winners and five best runner-ups will join host Malaysia in the Championship slated for September 20 through October 7 next year.
Since Nepal’s young team is playing tournaments at home ground in a row, it has both advantage and disadvantage, according to Shrestha. “The age-group team is always far from maturity, players always get pressurized from the home crowd and nervous as well,” said Shrestha: “But then they also enjoy the cheers as well. So there is both advantage and disadvantage.”
Shrestha, who is in charge of the team for the second time, said that his team has worked to overcome the weaknesses that were exposed during the SAFF Championship.
Defensive calmness, ball possession and finishing of the forward players were the concerns during the SAFF Championship, according to Shrestha.
“We had conceded some silly goals in SAFF and the midfield also failed to possess the ball and play the passing game. The forwards missed too many chances. So we have worked to make these areas better,” said Shrestha.
During the SAFF semifinal against Bangladesh, Nepal had conceded two goals within a space of two minutes while conceded easy goals in the final to India, which it lost 2-1.
Nepal had qualified once in the last three editions of the Championship. Nepal had failed to progress from the qualifying rounds for the 2012 edition, which was held in Kathmandu. But it secured a berth in the next edition with impressive performance.
In the 2014 qualifiers, Nepal topped the group defeating Bahrain, Turkmenistan and drawing against Iraq. However in the last edition of the tournament, Nepal was disqualified after playing over-age players.
Since Nepal is facing physically stronger opponents in the qualifiers, Shrestha said his team will have to play possession-based game and focus on short passes. “All our opponents are physically tougher than us, so we will have to build-up the game with short passes and dominate ball possession,” added Shrestha, who will field his team in the 4-4-2 playing system.
Meanwhile, Nepal will begin the competition taking on Iraq on Wednesday while two days later it will compete against India. Likewise, the home team will face Palestine in its last match on September 24.
Nepal U-16 Head Coach Sunil Kumar Shrestha has finalized the 23-member squad for the upcoming the AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers scheduled for September 20 through 24.
The squad announced on Monday consists of three goalkeepers, seven defenders, eight midfielders, and five forwards.
Midfielder Roshan Rana Magar will captain the side while forward Ranjan Pun remains the deputy.
Full Squad Goalkeepers: Bishal Sunar, Siddhartha Thapa Magar and Rohit Karki Defenders: Roshan Dong, Randip paudel, Deepak Bhandara, Ashim Gurung, Subash Karki, Sanjeev Aryal and Pukar Khadka Midfielders: Roshan Rana Magar, Sherab Lo Tamang, Saugat Khawash, Sanju Shrestha, Karlosh Bakhariya, Ashok Kingring Magar, Anjal Maharjan and Darshan Gurung Forwards: Abhishek Shrestha, Brijesh Chaudhary, Aakash Budha Magar, Ranjan Pun and