Nepal national football team players attend a training session at ANFA Complex, Satdobato, Lalitpur on Wednesday.
KATHMADNU, Oct 5: When Nepal national football team head coach Gytoku Koji announced the 23-member squad on Tuesday for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers match against Tajikistan, almost all the faces were the same.
Not only this time, but for the last two years, almost same players have been continuously getting chances in the national team.
Only striker George Prince Karki, who made debut for the national team last month, can be counted as new face of Koji’s squad announced for the Qualifier’s away match against Tajikistan scheduled on October 10.
Rest of other players of the squad consisting three goalkeepers, eight defenders, seven midfielders and five strikers, have been constantly representing Nepal in the international matches for the last two years.
Kiran Kumar Limbu, Bikesh Kuthu and Alan Neupane are the three goalkeepers Koji have included in the squad. Similarly the squad includes defenders Biraj Maharjan, Devendra Tamang, Ananta Tamang, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Jitendra Karki, Aditya Chaudhary and Kamal Shrestha.
Likewise, Sunil Bal, Heman Gurung, Rohit Chand, Suman Lama, Anjan Bista, Bikram Lama, Bishal Rai, Hemant Thapa Magar and Sujal Shrestha are the midfielders playing from the team.
Captain Anil Gurung is left out as he is yet to recover from the injury while Bimal Gharti Magar, Nawayug Shrestha, Bharat Khawas, Anjan Bista along with Karki are given the charge of forward line.
Head coach Koji says he doesn’t have any other option than choosing the same players every time since the nation’s football is failing to produce new talents.
“I want to test new players, give them chances but I can’t do that because we don’t have league neither we have other top level competitions to produce new faces. Without such platforms, how will new players make their way to the national team?” questioned Japanese coach Koji who has been overseeing Nepali team since March 2016.
“Players need more and more competition. New faces in the squad force every other member to work hard in order to protect their places. Eventually it lifts the performance of the entire team,” added Koji. “But I have to form the team from the same small pool of the players due to absence of league and other top level competitions.”
All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) has said that it is organizing A Division League, country’s top tier football competition, this year. However failing to do so in the past three years has resulted in shortage of players and made enough damage in nation’s football.
Koji said that the lack of the top level fullbacks in the team is forcing him to do experiment in the playing system in upcoming encounter against Tajikistan. Since his arrival to Nepal, Koji has always played Nepali team in 4-4-2 playing system in the most of the occasions but this time Japanese is opting 3-4-3 or 3-5-2.
“We don’t have decent fullbacks in the team, so to overcome that issue I am changing the whole playing system this time,” said Koji. “If there was enough football in country, I would have definitely got chance to pick new fullbacks.”
Since the team’s reliable left back Rabin Shrestha is out for long period due to knee injury he sustained during the match against the Philippines in March, the team is struggling to find his replacement.
Right back Biraj Maharjan failing to re-catch his old form and newcomers Kamal Shrestha and Dinesh Rajbanshi struggling to impress in fullback positions is not helping the team.
When Nepal faces Tajikistan second time in the Qualifiers, Koji will use the wingers as wingback and play three central defenders at back.
Koji believes that the change in system will balance the team. “I hope this change will make our defense strong and sharpen the attack as well,” Koji expressed his hope. “Although we are opting to this style for the first time in my tenure, I am hopeful of delivering the positive result.”
Nepal is at the bottom of the Group F in the qualifiers with just one point from last three matches. Nepal had faced 4-1 defeat to the Philippines in its first match of the qualifying campaign in Manila. Nepal held Yemen to goalless draw at Halchowk Stadium in its second match and suffered 2-1 defeat at the hands of Tajikistan in third match at ANFA Complex, last month.
Philippines lead the table with seven points from three matches while second-placed Yemen has five points. Tajikistan is third with three points. The top two teams of the group will also compete on October 10 and the result could change the face of points table.
Koji accepts Nepal’s chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup to be held in United Arab Emirates (UAE) is very slim. However he said that the matches in the qualifiers should be taken as good exposure for the players. “All other teams in the group are technically and physically better than us. But we must take the qualifiers as platform for our players to learn and improve,” said Koji.
Nepali team is leaving to Tajikistan on Friday.