Koji optimistic despite lack of friendly matches

Published On: October 28, 2016 09:50 PM NPT By: Prabin Bikram Katwal  | @prabinLFC

KATHMANDU, Oct 28: Playing friendly match is an integral part of the preparations for any national football team before taking part in the international tournament. Friendly matches against tough opponent provides coach a good opportunity to test his players and see whether they can play in the way that they have been instructed during training session.  

Nepali national team which is flying to Malaysia on Sunday to take part in AFC Solidarity Cup hasn't played any friendly match during its two-month long preparation. As a result head coach Gyotoku Koji didn't get chance to test his players before leading his team to newly launched Asian competition. 

“We have been preparing since two months. Players have done well in training but lack of friendly matches has been the major obstacle to test them. And without playing them in competitive match it's hard to say how the improvement is,” said Koji after a training session on on Thursday evening. 

Nepal was supposed to play two international friendlies against Bangladesh on July 15 and 17 but it was cancelled at last moment. ANFA had invited Bhutan for friendly match with the view to prepare national team for Solidarity cup but fellow south Asian nation expressed its reluctances. 

“I have seen improvements during training but friendly matches would have given me chance to work on the weaknesses of the team,” added Koji, a former head coach of Bhutan national team. During his tenure in Bhutan, the team reached semifinal of SAFF Championship in 2008, which is its biggest achievement in South Asian competition so far.

Nepal has played two international matches under the Japanese -- against Malaysia U-22 and Laos on March 29 and May 29 respectively. In those away matches, Nepal was held to identical 1-1 draw.

Nepal has won two consecutive titles this year including SAG (the U-23 football competition organized under South Asian Games flagship) and Bagnabandhu Gold Cup.

“All the teams will kick off the tournament aiming to win. Obviously our target is also to lift the title. But the more important thing is the improvement of team,” Koji said in response to if he is feeling pressure to coach the title winning team of the South Asian region.

Nepal placed at 186th ranking in FIFA ranking is drawn along with Brunei DS ranked 192 and Timor Leste, which is jointly at 186th position in Group A of the tournament.  

Koji rates all teams of the tournament of similar level. “I haven't watched opponents match live. However, I have analyzed them through video footages. I don't think they are stronger than us,” added Koji.

Nepal will kick-off the tournament facing Timor Leste on the November 5 while it will vie against Brunei three days later. 

During the two-month training, Nepali coaching team has worked on the movement and the position awareness of the players, said Raju Kaji Shakya, Koji's second man. “The movement of the players has been one of the major weaknesses of the players, so our coaching team has worked on that,” said Shakya. 

“Positional awareness of the players has been our other weakness. We have instructed players to be smarter during receiving and setting passes as it is the most important attribute of the modern football,” added Shakya. 

Since Koji's arrival, there has been change in the defensive strategy of the team as well. “Not leaving space for opponents has brought changes in the defensive strategy as well. In the past, we used to do mostly with man-to-man marking system, now we have implemented zonal marking system which makes the defense line more organized,” informed Shakya, who has worked as second man to many foreign coaches of the national teams in past. 

Shakya is excited over the tournament as he points out that players were in good form winning back-to-back titles including the SAG which was won under his own coaching.
Alongside Shakya, goalkeeping coach Ujjwal Manandhar is assisting Japanese coach Koji. 

Captain Anil Gurung is optimistic that the squad is strong enough to add silverware in Nepal's title disposal. “We have trained well and had ample time for training. Moral of the players is very high as we already have two titles in a row. The team is mix of experienced senior players and talented young bloods, so the overall squad is very balanced,” said Anil who has earned 46 caps for the national team. 

Beside Anil, right back Biraj Maharjan and goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu are other senior members of the team who have won more than 50 caps in the national color. The young talents like Bikram Lama, Bimal Gharti Magar, Anjan Bista, Nawayug Shrestha makes the team stronger, according to the skipper. 

“Whole nation is expecting another title from this team as we have delivered twice in the past. This time as well we will give our best to bring another title to home,” said Anil in a confident note. 

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