KATHMANDU, Nov 30: Unpredictability is the beauty of a game. The Martyrs Memorial Football League that kicked off 10 days ago in the capital has been entertaining since the very first round with an "unexpected" result.
The opening day saw defending champion and winner of last four leagues Nepal Police Club forced to a 1-1 draw by newcomer Madhyapur Youth Association. Another title contender Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) also faced a similar fate against Sankata Club, one of the oldest clubs of the country that made a comeback in the top flight this season.
In total, 18 matches have been played so far with poor results for the departmental teams. But it would be too early to predict the champion.
Unexpected results/ top teams under pressure
From the very first day, the result of the league has been unexpected with strong rated teams -- Police, MMC and Three Star -- receiving an early shock. Defending champion Police have earned only one point from three matches while Three Star lost its first match of the campaign to Saraswati.
Comparatively weak rated teams like Sankata, Saraswati and Madhyapur have come up with stunning results. Birat Krishna Shrestha, the coach of Police team has admitted that it might be tough for the holders to be among the top eight.
Machhindra which struggled to avoid relegation in the last edition stands as the biggest threat to traditional powerhouses after defeatnig Police 2-0 in its last match on Wednesday. Machhindra not just scored goals but looked favorite against Police and is on top of the table.
If initial results are anything to go by, almost all teams are gradually getting stronger.
Weak departmental teams
The traditional powerhouse of Nepali football --- Police and Nepal Army -- had a miserable beginning and Armed Police Force (APF) is pointless after two matches. Police made its worst beginning in the league since 2060 BS. Both Army and Police have a point each but the Army has a match advantage over Police.
Police is the only team in modern Nepali football which holds the record of maintaining unbeaten run for 49 matches. None of the football pundits might have expected the Police to have such a miserable start.
The results of the initial three rounds suggest that even bigger teams like Police can come under pressure for a place among the super eight. APF, the relegation struggler for the last season, is likely to fight for its place in the A division.
Dominance of foreign players
The presence of foreign players have had a great impact in the performance and result of the team. All except the departmental teams have hired foreign players in their squad. So far, 36 foreign players have registered at ANFA, while others are still awaiting registration. More than a dozen other foreign players have already acquired ITC and are in process of acquiring work permit.
Teams like Bauddha and Bansbari, (and Jawalakhel without foreign player in the first match) without foreign players in first two matches looked comparatively weak.
Both of them have not achieved win while Jawalakhel that lost 5-1 against Machhindra in the first match won the second match 3-1 against APF. In the second match, Jawalakhel had fielded four foreign players in the starting line up. The provision that does not allow the departmental teams to hire foreign players has became a major setback for them.
Flop national stars
The members of national squad have flopped so far in the league.Teams with a dominating presence of national players like Three Star, Police, MMC and Friends failed to win their first match.
National team skipper Sagar Thapa, Nirajan Khadka , Jagjeet Shrestha and Deepak Bhusal all from Friends could not perform up to the mark. Strikers Jumanu Rai, Bharat Khawas, Anil Gurung and Santosh Sahukhala fared no better. Rai, Khawas and Gurung have not scored so far while Sahukhala netted twice.
However, Sahukhala´s performance was also below par. Defender Biraj Maharja, Sandip Rai, Sabindra Shrestha and midfielder Raju Tamang are struggling to gain their previous form.
The topics of racism have never been discussed in the Nepali football. But it is the right time to increase awareness among players, coaches, football officials and fans against racist remarks.
Former England captain John Terry and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez received four and 12 match for hurling racist remarks against opponent player. Italian top tier club Lazio was fined during Europa League for racist remarks by his fans.
Foreign players, mostly Africans have started making strong presence in the Martyrs League. However, racist hooting from fans can be heard at the parapet every now and then. Though unknowingly, even coaches have been overheard making racist remarks while commenting on foreign players.
Less criticized referee
In comparison to previous editions of league and other tournaments, the match referees have not been criticized as much. Most often, the referees used to be criticized by the bottom team, often after losing matches. Fortunately, the so called low profile teams have achieved satisfactory results.
Statistics Total matches 18
No score match 3
Total goals 48
Average goals/match 2.67
First half goals 23
Second half goals 25
Most goal in a match 8
Penalty goals 3
Own goals 2
Total yellow cards 60
Hat-tricks John Dike (Jawalakhel)
Sequn Eyitayo (NRT)
Highest scorers John Dike (Jawalakhel) 3 goals
Sequn Eyitayo (NRT) 3 goals