KATHMANDU, March 21: One of the most prolific strikers of his generation, Karna Limbu, has played for just 15 minutes for the national team. At the age of 31, which is generally the twilight of playing career for footballers, he has been named in the final squad for a tournament for the first time although he was in the squad for international friendlies before too. He was named in the list of 20 players announced on Friday for the AFC Asian Qualifiers against the Philippines.
The diminutive forward of Jhapa XI has already proved his mettle in domestic football. He was the top scorer in the Martyrs Memorial A Division League 2013/14 with 11 goals for Machhindra FC. In the following season, he scored 13 goals for Jhapa XI in the National League to script his name as the second highest scorer.
Despite displaying his scoring ability in the last two seasons of domestic football, Karna has played for just 15 minutes for the national team during a friendly against Yemen in 2014. He made his debut for the national side under coach Raju Kaji Shakya replacing Anil Gurung in the match that saw Nepal face 2-0 defeat. He was called up for the national team three months later for another friendly match against the Philippines in Qatar but was limited to the bench.
“At the beginning, I used to think that I didn't have proper quality to have a place in the national team. So I kept working hard with hope of earning national team call up in the future,” Karna said after a training session for the Philippines match on Monday.
“I was doing well in domestic football and was included in preliminary squad of the national team announced for the preparation for SAFF Championship 2015,” said Karna, adding, “I had big hopes of proving my worth in SAFF as I always dreamed of representing my country in that tournament. But my name wasn't in the final squad. That was probably the biggest frustration of my career.”
“Following the setback, I lost interest in national team. Every time I was called up in the preliminary squad, training for a couple of weeks and being axed from the final squad had been a routine job. Due to this, I decided not to attend national team training anymore,” added Karna.
But Jhapa XI striker change his mind after his family, friends and supporters forced him to travel to Kathmandu following the announcement of preliminary squad by current head coach of the national team Gyotoku Koji for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers fixtures against the Philippines.
“My family, club members, supporters and others encouraged me saying that I could make it to the final squad and pressurized me to attend national team training,” added Karna. “I also couldn't ignore them, so I came to Kathmandu. Hopefully, I can prove my worth this time and make my nation proud.”
Though Karna says he is not expecting to be in the starting list, he believes he can make a difference in substitution role. “I am not expecting the coach to name me in the starting lineup, but I hope to get substitution role, maybe for 20-25 minutes. I will try my best in the match,” he said.
Coach Raju Kaji Shakya, who had also coached Karna in Machhindra FC, says he was in included in the national team after impressing Koji and not because of injuries to Nawayug Shrestha and exclusion of Anil Gurung.
“He is in the team because he impressed us in the training. Head coach Koji had watched him in Aaha-Rara and Jhapa Gold Cup and his impressive performance prompted him to call him in the national team camp,” said Shakya, who is assisting Koji.
Shakya also said that Karna is very talented and the only concern about him is international experience. “Despite performing well in domestic level, he hadn't got chances with the national team because there were other better players in his position. Now, he is finally in the team and is a bright talent. Our major concern will be if he can repeat his domestic form in international level or not,” added Shakya.
Karna, who is thinking about retiring from football two years later, says he is determined to make this national call up memorable. “I don't think I will play more than two years from now. So it is also a challenge for me to prove my worth for the national team. I am fully determined to show what I can do,” said Karna.