Three Star’s coach Megh Raj KC during a training session at ANFA ground at Satdobato, Lalitpur in this recent photo. (Bijay Rai/ Republica)
KATHMANDU, Aug 15: Ruslan Three Star Club, which is returning to the continental club championship after three years, has almost completed its preparations before flying for the AFC Cup play-off qualifiers to be held in Mongolia from August 21 to 25.
The National League champion will be leaving for Mongolia on Tuesday with a target of topping the qualifying group to make into the play-off stage of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) second-tier club competition.
Three Star is scheduled to play against Mongolian Champion Erchim FC on August 21 and Cambodian Nagaworld FC after three days.
“We have been training since one month, so we are in the last stage of preparations,” said Three Star’s head coach Megh Raj KC during a training session on Friday.
Three Star is the first Nepali club to represent Nepal in the AFC Cup play-off qualifiers, as this tournament came as a replacement of AFC President’s Cup scrapped by the AFC last year.
“We are currently focusing on the tactical part and trying to set the team according to the system that we are going to use in Mongolia,” added KC.
Coach KC had divided the training into physical and tactical parts. First two weeks of the training was focused on the physical part where KC and his coaching team worked to increase the physical strength of the players.
The team is working on strategic and tactical plans in the last phase.
As part of preparations, the Patan-based outfit played two warm-up matches against departmental teams APF and Tribhuvan Army Club at ANFA Complex last week. It registered impressive 5-0 victory over APF and was held to a 1-1 draw by Army.
KC said that the team has worked on the weaknesses exposed by the friendly matches. “The forward line-up wasn’t set properly. We missed many goal scoring chances, especially in the second warm-up match. So we have to sort out the striking problems,” said KC, the assistant coach of former national team.
KC, who returned to Three Star after a two-year spell with Army, has set his target on progressing to play-off stage. “Our primary target is to qualify for play-off stage of the tournament. We want to utilize this glorious chance to take Nepali football to the next stage in international football,” said KC.
Though Three Star consists six Nepal internationals -- Alan Neupane, Devendra Tamang, Rajin Dhimal, Sunil Bal and Prakash Budhathoki -- it is still full of young and untested players. It is not the same star-studded team as it used to be in the past. “The domestic football is paralyzed, players haven’t got chance to play major tournaments this year. So we couldn’t sign new talents to strengthen our team,” KC clarified. “Most of the senior players are in MMC and departmental teams, so we had very less available options in the market. However, we have tried to make the squad strong by choosing the best from among the available options.”
“We have a mix team of current national players, former national players and other young talents. Plenty of players from this current squad have the experience of playing in President’s Cup. So I am optimistic about a good performance,” added KC.
In the 2013 edition of the AFC President’s Cup held in Kathmandu, Three Star was drawn along with Erchim FC in Group A. Members of the current squad -- goalkeeper Alan Neupane, defenders Saroj Dhimal, Bijay Dhimal, midfielders Bikram Lama, Bijay Gurung, Bishnu Gurung, current captain Nirajan Khadka and Prakash Budhathoki-- were part of the Three Star squad then. It progressed to the final stage as group topper. However, Three Star failed to make it to the semifinal and bowed out of group stage during the final round.
Three Star has two Nigerian players in its team, CB Peter Segun and striker Martins Kayade. Peter was with MMC before joining Three Star while Martins joined from Friends. Three Star has also added Roshan Mal, who came from England, to bolster its striking option.
The national teams of Mongolia, Nepal and Cambodia hold the ranking of 202, 188 and 180 in FIFA rankings respectively. Regardless of the FIFA rankings of the three countries, coach KC expects both opponents to have similar level as that of Three Star.
Though KC doesn’t have much knowledge about the opponents, he is aware of power-play game the opponents are used to and has trained his team accordingly.
Three Star, which mainly plays in 4-4-2 formation, could also change its playing style according to the situation. “We will use the system according to the opponent and the situation. We normally use 4-4-2 formation and can change to 5-3-2 if required,” said KC. “We could also go for 4-3-3 system for attacking style of play if the opponents seem to be weaker than our expectation.”
Coach KC is yet to finalize his starting eleven. “All the players have equal chances of starting and no one is the favorite. I am watching them closely in the training, their selection in the starting eleven depends on how they perform during the training,” said KC.
Striker Asim Jung Karki, who returned to action almost after two years, is likely to pair with Nigerian striker Martins Kayade upfront.
Captain Nirajan Khadka is being used as playmaker by coach KC lately, while former Nepali international Bijay Gurung’s role will depend on what formation the team will adopt.
After goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong left the club to join MMC, Nepal U-23 goalkeeper Alan Neupane has been handling the role.