'Asian Cup Qualifiers an opportunity to check improvement'

Published On: February 21, 2017 12:40 AM NPT By: Prabin Bikram Katwal  | @prabinLFC

KATHMANDU, Feb 21: National football team head coach Gyotoku Koji has said that the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers will be a good chance for the Nepali team to improve its weaknesses that were seen during the AFC Solidarity Cup. 

“Obviously, our goal is to qualify for the Asian cup. But the most important thing among all is to improve our performance than in the solidarity cup,” said head coach Koji. 

“Asian cup qualifiers will be a great chance for us to check how far we have come since the solidarity cup, whether our level has improved or not,” added the Japanese coach. 

Nepal is starting its Asian cup qualifying campaign with an away match against the Philippines on March 28 and is in training since more than a week. Koji had called up 36 players for the preliminary squad prior to the qualifiers, adding 13 players in the list of 23 players that won the solidarity cup in November. 

However, only 17 players are in training as three are injured and eight are with Manang Marsyangdi Club in Bangladesh taking part in Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup.

Similarly goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong and attacking duo Bimal Gharti Magar and Anjan Bista are in the Maldives and Spain respectively while rest of the players are yet to join the training. 

Among the injured players, defender Aditya Chaudhary and midfielder Suman Lama have started light training while Nawayug Shrestha's medical test result is yet to come. 

Koji, who guided the Nepali team to major title in his first year as coach, says Asian cup qualifier is the biggest chance for Nepali players to expose their talent. “We will face tough opponents in the competition so players need to give improved performance there,” added Koji. 

However, he denied that Asian cup qualifier is the real test for him given the strong opponents in the competition than in the solidarity cup. “Yes opponents that we are going to face in the qualifiers are stronger than the opponents we faced in the last tournament.

But every tournament has its own importance,” said Koji, “Solidarity cup had its own importance and now this qualifier also has its own importance. It's about giving improved performance after every match and every tournament.”

“We lifted the solidarity cup which was a wonderful experience but more important thing is to judge the improvement before and after a particular tournament,” said Koji. 

The Japanese coach says that there are still lots of areas for improvement in technical aspect and the objective of the current training is to sharpen their technical skills. “Our coaching team is working on to build up the technical aspects of the players. Dribbling, switching of the passes, distribution are still the weaknesses of Nepali players which we are trying to improve,” Koji gave insight about the weaknesses of the players. He also said that coaching team was working to sharpen the finishing. 

Koji, who recently watched the Aaha-Rara Gold Cup in Pokhara and Jhapa Gold Cup in Birtamode, said that he was assessing the talents of the new 13 faces he called up for the preliminary squad. “I watched different tournaments in the last couple of months including Aaha-Rara and Jhapa to notice new players and called more than a dozen of them for preliminary training. We are analyzing them in the training,” said Koji. Domestic star striker Karna Limbu alongside Yubaraj Khadka, Bishwa Adhikari, Jitendra Karki, Rabi Paswan, Sunil Bal are some notable new faces in the preliminary squad. 

Raju Kaji Shakya, who is assisting Koji, says that a full-swing preparation for the qualifiers will start once all players including those in Bangladesh with Manang and others from domestic gold cups join the training. “As our key players are with Manang playing in Bangladesh, we are not able to start full-phase preparation. At this moment, we are analyzing the ability of the new faces,” said Shakya. 

“We are assessing the technical skills and physical fitness of the new players and trying to figure out whether their presence will strengthen our solidarity cup-winning team or not,” added Shakya. He also said that new players were impressive in training. 

“For most of them, this is the first call up at the national team training camp and they are doing quite well. There is still time before we sort out the final squad. Hopefully they prove their worth during the training,” said Shakya. 

Nepal has been drawn in Group F along with Yemen, Tajikistan and the Philippines in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers which will see the participation of 24 countries. Nepal was given a chance to play the qualifiers in the capacity of AFC Solidarity Cup winner and as the replacement of Guam which withdrew its participation citing internal reasons. 

The group winners and runners-up will book their places in the final where they will join 12 teams who have already qualified for the Asian cup through the 2018 FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification round two. 

Goalkeeper Alan Neupane, defenders Jitendra Karki, Man Bahadur Tamang, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Rohit Chand, Bimal Basnet, Bimal Panday  midfielders Rabi Paswan, Bishow Adhikari, Sunil Bal, Hemant Thapa Magar, forwards Karna Limbu and Yubraj Khadka are the additional player in the list of Nepal's last squad that played the AFC Solidarity Cup.

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