KATHMANDU, Nov 9: Nepal has advanced to the semifinals of the AFC Solidarity Cup on Tuesday after a convincing 3-0 victory over Brunei Darussalam in its final group stage match held at Sarawak Stadium in Kuching, Malaysia.
Three different forwards Nawayug Shrestha, Bharat Khawas and Bimal Gharti Magar were on target for Nepal in an improved performance.
The victory means Nepal, held to a goalless draw by Timor Leste on Saturday, topped the group with four points, one point ahead of Brunei which also made it to the next round as group runner-up.
Despite the convincing win over Brunei, Nepal's head coach Gyotoku Koji wasn't satisfied with the team's performance. “Though the result was satisfactory, the performance was not enough. Nepali players can do better than today. I have seen them play better than this in Nepal,” said the Japanese national.
Nawayug Shrestha broke the deadlock for Nepal notching up a goal in the stoppage time of the first half. Nawayug pounced in on Brunei's goalkeeper Wardun Yussof's rebounder of his own strike to net his fourth international goal. Before scoring the goal, Nawayug collected a poor clearance of Brunie's defender in a bid to prevent Heman Gurung's close-range strike from the zone.
Earlier, Nepal made some good moves but lack of composure prevented it from achieving the score.
Bharat Khawas, who was influential throughout the match, made good run from the right wing dribbling past three opponent players in the 27th minute but failed to cross the ball to the box. Brunei's first real chance of scoring came in the 37th minute when Adi Bin Said charged a shot from the box capitalizing on Nepal's defensive error. However Rabin Shrestha made a goalline clearance with a header.
Brunei started the second half strongly dominating ball possession in the first 10 minutes but Nepal slowly regained control. Nepali forwards increased pressure on Brunei and was prized with the second goal in the 72nd minute. Bharat extended Nepal's lead with spectacular back volley when he collected Sujal Shrestha's header off Bimal's corner.
Bharat, who came as second half replacement in the last match, started in place of injured Anjan Bista and netted his ninth international goal.
Nepal got another chance to extend the lead when referee awarded penalty in the 80th minute after Brunei's forward Mohammad Najib brought down Bimal inside the box. Bimal made no mistake to convert his left-footed shot to take the scoreline beyond the reach of Brunei.
Despite expressing his dissatisfaction over the performance of the team, Nepal's coach Koji seemed happy over the condition of the pitch which was wet in the last match due to rain. “Today's pitch was better and was suitable to play possession-based football,” Koji added.
Koji also said that Nepal should improve in the next match if it wants to win the tournament.
Similarly, Brunei's head Kwon coach Oh Son pointed out to his decision to rest key players behind the defeat. “Six players were rested for their recovery as they had picked up injuries during the last match. Five of them are vital players. Our defense suffered setback and conceded goals due to their absence,” said Son.
Son also said that his players were overconfident after earning a 4-0 win over Timor Leste and now they need to learn from the defeat. “It is disappointing to suffer a 3-0 loss.
Players should learn lesson and not be overconfident,” said Son.
Nepal will now face the winner between Mongolia and Laos in the semifinal on Saturday.