Photo Courtesy: Anfa (From left) Bishal Rai, Bharat Khawash and Anjan Bista of national football team during a training session at the ANFA Complex, Satdobato on Tuesday.
KATHMANDU, March 22: Nepal's national football team coach Raju Kaji Shakya says that the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers 2019 will be the real test for Nepali team which won the AFC Solidarity Cup last year.
Nepal won its first continental trophy defeating Macau in the Solidarity Cup final in Malaysia and coach Shakya says that the gap between Asian Cup Qualifiers and Solidarity Cup is high.
“Asian cup qualifiers will be a real test for us as this competition is much tough than the tournament we won last year given the status of the opponents we are facing. All the teams in our group are very strong and experienced than us,” said Shakya.
Nepal, which had faced lower-ranked teams in Solidarity Cup, will take on comparatively higher-ranked nations including the Philippines, Tajikistan and Yemen in the group stage of Asian Cup qualifiers. The Nepali squad led by Japanese coach Gytoku Koji will kick off its qualifying campaign against the Philippines in its first match at Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila on March 28.
Nepal is currently at the last phase of the preparation for the first leg match against the Philippines before flying to Manila on March 25. And coach Shakya considers the Philippines to be a strong opponent. “They are not easy opponent to play. They have top level squad studded with some foreign-based players. We will try to play good football in order to deliver positive result,” coach Shakya gave insight about the first opponent of the qualifiers.
Nepal which is ranked 170th in FIFA rankings has poor record against the 124th-placed Philippines as it has registered just one win out of four matches and faced three defeats. Nepal has conceded 10 goals against the Azkals and has hitback only one goal.
“We have watched the matches of the Philippines and will closely track them when they play friendly against Malaysia on Wednesday and then we will be more clear about them,” added Shakya.
The former Tribhuvan Army Club coach Shakya said that the ability to score goals under pressure has been a big boost for his team. “The actual level of our squad will be exposed once we face strong teams as we haven't played with such team for some while. But still the ability of our team to produce goals is our strength. Strikes are in good form and they can score even if the team is under pressure and trailing behind,” said Shakya.
When asked about Nepal's playing strategy, Shakya hesitated to disclose it. “Our playing style will depend on the opponents we will face in the qualifiers and we can't disclose it right ahead of the match,” said Shakya. Most of the players of the 20-member Nepali squad announced for the matches against the Philippines are youngsters including two center halves Aditya Chaudhary and Ananta Tamang who are in their early 20s. The ANFA Academy graduates have been first choice central defenders for Nepal under head coach Koji. Despite their young age Shakya says they are well prepared to face strong opponents including the Philippines in the Asian Cup qualifiers. “All the teams we are going to face in the tournament have top level attackers so we have made them prepared accordingly. They are big talents of our team and we are hopeful of them doing well,” said Shakya.
“As Asian Cup qualifiers is a high-level competition, it will be big chance for our players to learn,” said Shakya.