Solidarity Cup win
When Nepal Police arrested five national footballers, including the reigning captain Sagar Thapa, in October, 2015, on charges of match-fixing, Nepali football aficionados were disgusted. They saw it as a sign of everything that was wrong with Nepali football back then: it was being managed by a thoroughly corrupt governing body, ANFA, under Ganesh Thapa, player motivation was low, football infrastructure was crumbling, and the national men’s team was suffering one after another humiliating loss. But how different do things look only after a year! Under a new captain and coach, and with a change of personnel at ANFA, last year’s debacles appear like a distant dream as the new team of captain Biraj Maharjan has now won three international tournaments in a row. On Tuesday, Nepal pulled off its biggest international win, ever, when it defeated Macau in the final of the inaugural Asian Football Federation (AFC) Solidarity Cup in Kuching, Malaysia. The 1-0 triumph marked the first time Nepal won a continental-level tournament in Asia. Any way you look at it, it’s a huge achievement. We now hope that Nepal can build on this success and prove its mettle against the best in Asia.
With Tuesday’s win, Nepal is sure to climb up the FIFA rankings, from the lowly 186th position it currently occupies. But as delighted as we are with Team Nepal’s steady progress over the past one year—the success in Kuching following hot on the heels of its tournament victories at the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in Bangladesh and the SAG tournament in India—we would like to see Nepal go even further. To put the Solidarity Cup win into perspective, it is a tournament that featured Asian countries that had failed to make the qualifying rounds of both the 2018 World Cup as well as the 2019 Asian Cup. In other words, the seven national teams taking part in the Solidarity Cup were among the worst teams in Asia. Moreover, Nepal’s performance in the tournament itself was far from convincing, as it had barely made it to the final against Macau, after beating Laos in a penalty shootout. Before that, Nepal had drawn its match against the mediocre Timor-Leste. Again, in pointing out this harsh reality, we are not in any way trying to belittle what Team Nepal has been able to achieve by battling incredible odds. But we would like to believe that there is still a lot of room for improvement.
For instance, even though Nepal won the Solidarity Cup final against Macao, Nepal’s head coach from Japan, Goyotoku Koji, was far from satisfied, as he rightly pointed out how his team could have scored many more goals had the strikers been able to hold their nerve. Even though Nepal dominated the match, with just one goal in the kitty, there was always a chance of a freak goal by the opposition that could have turned the contest on its head. The only way Nepal will improve is if it gets the chance to compete against some of the good teams in Asia, or even beyond, on a consistent basis. Likewise, the trend of sending our promising lads to train in Europe must also be boosted. Another thing we could do to attract good teams to come and play in Nepal is to improve the state of our stadiums. Even Dashrath Rangashala, the only international football ground in Nepal, is crumbling. Make no mistake. Tuesday’s momentous win can be attributed solely to the hard work and dedication of the players and the coaching staff. It would be hard for them to keep their morale high without consistent and adequate support of ANFA and the country they represent.