KATHMANDU, August 18: Nepal’s U-16 football team coach Sunil Shrestha has said that his team is under pressure to win the SAFF U-15 Championship which begins at ANFA Complex, Satdobato, on Friday.
Speaking at the pre-match conference ahead of the championship in the capital on Thursday, Shrestha said, “Since we are playing at home, we are under pressure to win it. But our first target is to reach the semifinals. Then, obviously, we will try our best to make it to the final,” said Shrestha.
Nepal is pitted in Group B with championship favorite India and the Maldives while Group A consists of defending champion Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Top two teams from each group will advance to the semifinals.
The first match of the competition will be held between India and the Maldives at ANFA Complex ground on Friday. In its first match, Nepal will take on the Maldives on Monday.
“We have prepared well for this competition. Team work is our major strength. Understanding among the players is very good as they have been playing together for a long time,” said Shrestha, “We have worked hard in the training to polish our attack and other departments are also equally good.”
Most players in the Nepali squad are from the ANFA Academy. They have been playing together for more than a year and a half. Out of the 23 members in the Nepali team, six were chosen through open selection and they were kept in ANFA Academy for more than two months in order to prepare for the SAFF Championship and AFC qualifiers.
This tournament is the replacement for SAFF U-16 Championship which has been won by Bangladesh, India and Pakistan so far.
India and Pakistan won the first and second editions of the U-16 Championship, respectively, that were held in Kathmandu. The third edition of the championship was held in Bangladesh in 2015. The hosts won the third edition defeating India in the final.
Nepal’s best run in the tournament came in the second edition held in 2013 where it had advanced to the semifinals but faced a 1-0 defeat at the hands of India.
This championship is being taken as the warm up for the upcoming AFC U-16 Championship 2018 Qualifiers since all six participating nations are taking part in the qualifiers next month.
“We want to qualify for the final rounds of the Asian championship. So performing well in this tournament will motivate us to do better in the continental championship qualifiers,” added coach Shrestha.
Nepal is also the host of the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers as the group D matches will be played in Kathmandu where the host nation will face Iran, India and Palestine from September 20 to 24. The Group topper will secure its place for the final round of the tournament to be held in Malaysia after two years.
Meanwhile, India’s U-15 team coach Ibiano Fernandes said that he is expecting a tough fight from host Nepal. “Although every team in the championship is equally good, with home advantage Nepal is a tough opponent for us,” said Fernandes.
He also said that facing Nepal in the SAFF Championship will be helpful to know the weaknesses and strengths of the host team as they will meet again in the AFC U-16 qualifiers as well.
Saying that every team is equally competitive, Bangladesh U-15 coach Mostofa Anowar Parvez said defending the tile is going to be tough for them. “We don’t really have any idea about the opponents but we are expecting all of them to give us a tough fight,” said Parvez.
Likewise, Sri Lankan coach Suzuki Chikashi said that his team has arrived with the target of lifting the championship. “We have come here with good preparations and our target is to win this tournament,” said Chikashi.
Similarly, Bhutan coach Songjun Lee said that his side can shock the opponents in the championship but will need to give top-class performance to achieve that.
The Maldives coach Mohamed Shaazly said that footballing level of the nations can’t be categorized with its area and size of the population, adding that his team’s target is to make it to the semifinals beating India and Nepal. “Anything can happen in football. Smaller nations can beat larger ones. Hopefully, we can secure a place in the last four beating big nations,” said Shaazly.