AFC Challenge Cup '08 Team Profile: Nepal continues its profile of the teams participating in the AFC Challenge Cup 2008. Subhankar Mondal looks at Nepal.

Football in Nepal is quite a popular sport. But professional football in the country has yet to blossom into full swing although in the past few years things have taken a turn for the good.

Nepal are ranked 177 in the latest FIFA list but they would certainly like to climb the ladder by performing to the best of their ability in the AFC Challenge Cup 2008.

The Reds or the Bull, as the Nepalese national football team is known as, have never featured in the World Cup or the Asian Cup but they did trek to the semi-finals of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2006 and have been participating in the South Asian Football Federation Cup since 1993 with decent progress.

Key Players

Jumanu Rai: The striker was the hero for Nepal in the 4-1 victory over Pakistan in the SAFF Cup where he scored a brace.

Raju Tamang: The midfielder who has 9 goals to his name in the Tribhuwan Army Club shall be the one to watch out for.

The Coach

The Nepalese team is coached by Birat Krishna Shrestha. He was formerly at Nepal Police Club(NPC) and was handed the reins of the national team for the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 after German Thomas Flath failed to show up for the tournament.

Shrestha was unveiled as the new Nepal coach only a few days ago but he was quick to name his 25-man squad for the competition. Shrestha is a highly respected coach at club level and guided NPC to second place in the AFC President’s Cup 2007.

The Group

Nepal are drawn into Group B along with DPR Korea, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Going by their performance in the SAFF Cup last month, Nepal would have to up their standards to reach the knock-out stages of the AFC Challenge Cup.

Recent Form

Nepal have been preparing for their AFC Challenge Cup by playing some warm-up matches. Their last match was against Indian powerhouse East Bengal where they collected a morale boosting victory in Kolkata. Nepal edged East Bengal 1-0 with Niranjan Khadka scoring the winner 20 minutes into the match. Nepal next play Chirag United on Saturday and shall then leave for Hyderabad for the competition.

The Squad

Goalkeepers: Ritesh Thapa, Bikash Malla, Samit Rajbhandari  

Defenders: Rakesh Shrestha, Anjan KC, Lok Bandu Gurung, Biraj Maharjan, Sagar Thapa, Suman Subedi, Chun Bahadur Thapa, Bikash Singh Chhetri, Rabin Shrestha  

Midfielders: Bijaya Gurung, Vishad Gauchan, Nirajan Khadka, Bhola Silwal, Anata Raj Thapa, Parbat Pandey, Ranjit Shrestha, Raju Tamang, Sandip Rai  

Strikers: Jumanu Rai, Santosh Sahukhala, Yougal Kishor, Nirajan Rayamajhi

Subhankar Mondal