Major casualties highlight squad selection with senior players getting axed, while an U-16 forward is thrust into the senior squad...
The 20-man Nepalese team to fight for the eighth SAFF Championship trophy on home soil has been announced. There, however, seemed to be no dearth of headliners as coach Jack Stafenowski did not hold back in culling the squad to the maximum extent.
Amongst major casualties lay experienced campaigners, namely Bijay Gurung, Nirajan Khadka and Tek Bahadur Budathoki, all of whom are midfielders, along with defenders Bijay Dhimal and Ananta Tamang. Amongst those who made the cut were Bimal Gharti Magar, a striker for the national U-16’s and wing maestro Prakash Budhathoki.
As declared by Stafenowski and assistant coach Richard Orlowski, the resulting team is comprised of three goalkeepers, six defenders and midfielders each and five forwards, all of whom play for top flight clubs in Nepal’s football league with the exception of Rohit Chand who plays for Persija Jakarta in the Indonesian Super League.
“We have been working hard for the championships. These are the best players available‚” expressed the coach, to The Himalayan Times.
Stafenowski alluded to the squad selection being influenced by the performance of the players during the three-week tour of the Gulf states, especially in Bahrain and Kuwait. He accepted that leaving out Nirajan was a bitter pill to swallow.
"We picked the players who have been making impact in the pitch during the team’s Gulf tour and practice matches. It was never easy to axe Nirajan but we found others who had an edge over him‚” explained Stafenowski.
Remaining optimistic the coach said, "We have high expectations from this team. It is capable to beat any opponent and we have a realistic chance to win the championships.” He also said that he intends to use Rohit Chand in a medio role.
Bharat Khawas who had joined the team late on Tuesday, on account of his commitments to the Nepalese Army, was also included in the squad.
"After joining the squad earlier this week‚ Bharat (Khawas) was struggling for first two days but was fine today‚” clarified Stefanowski. Bharat had skipped the national team’s Gulf tour.
Rabin Shrestha and Jagjit Shrestha, both of whom are on the side-lines after getting injured, would be fit before the tournament sets sail, confidently confided the coach.
While Prakash Budathoki is a debutant, Bishal Shrestha, defender Sabindra Shrestha and midfielder Tanka Basnet along with U-16 forward Bimal Gharti Magar have already made appearances for the national team. Magar is a prodigy of the ANFA academy.
"India is the defending champion and Bangladesh and Pakistan are other challengers," summed up Stafenowski to tabloid myrepublica on his teams toughest opponents. “There is no team which has come here to lose and all sides are equally challenging and tough.”
Nepal begin their conquest on Saturday at the Dasharath Stadium, Kathmandu, with a Group ‘A’ tie against Bangladesh. They have been drawn alongside India and Pakistan along with Bangladesh.
Goalkeepers: Kiran Kumar Limbu (Three Star)‚ Ritesh Thapa (NPC) and Bishal Shrestha (MMC); Defenders: Sagar Thapa (MMC)‚ Rohit Chand (Persija Jakarta)‚Sandip Rai (Three Star)‚ Biraj Maharjan (Three Star)‚ Sabindra Shrestha (Three Star) and Rabin Shrestha (NPC);
Midfielders: Jagjit Shrestha (Three Star)‚ Bikram Lama (Three Star)‚ Prakash Budhathoki (Three Star)‚ Raju Tamang (TAC)‚ Tanka Basnet (TAC) and Bhola Silwal (NPC);
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