KATHMANDU, Feb 26: With the date for group D qualifiers of AFC Challenge Cup nearing, participating teams have started to arrive in Nepal, the host nation. Northern Mariana Island team landed in Kathmandu on Sunday midnight while Bangladesh team arrived on Monday.
Palestine team will be arriving on Thursday for the event scheduled to begin Saturday.
Let´s know the participating teams of the group. One winner from each of the five groups will secure automatic berth for the final round of event scheduled for next year in the Maldives. Similarly, two best runner up teams and the host will join the finalists making a total of eight teams.
Northern Mariana Island
The team from Western Pacific Ocean will be marking its debut in the AFC Challenge Cup on Saturday. It will be a mystery team for Nepal and the rest of the teams of the group as none of them have encountered the Island nation before.
The home team will start its campaign taking against Northern Mariana Island, which is 183.5 square miles (475.26 km square) total population of 53,883.
The US colony has yet to get full membership of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the football governing body in Asia. Previously it was a member of Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). The island nation was approved full membership of East Asia Football Federation (EAFF) in September, 2008. AFC approved it as an Associate Member in July 2009 after it pulled out from OFC.
The team would be listed in the FIFA rankings and AFC rankings only after it achieves full membership of the AFC. The last match Northern Mariana Island played was a friendly against Guam in December 2012 in which it faced a humiliating 8-0 defeat.
Meanwhile, the island nation also competed in the preliminary rounds of EAFF East Asia Cup in which it lost both matches and finished at the bottom of table. In the first match, it was defeated 1-5 by Macau and 1-3 by Guam. Macau is in 197th position and Guam in 183rd in the latest FIFA rankings.
Palestine is the of sub confederation member of West Asian Football Federation (WAFF). It is in 152nd position in the FIFA rankings. Nepal and Palestine have met twice in the past. The last meeting between Nepal and Palestine was during the finals of AFC Challenge Cup held in Kathmandu in March, 2012. Nepal was defeated 2-0 in the match. Earlier, the teams had met during the Challenge Cup Qualifiers in 2009 which ended in a goalless draw.
Palestine achieved its best result in the Challenge Cup during the last edition of the tournament. Palestine crashed out of the semifinal after going down 2-0 against North Korea.
As part of preparation for the Challenge Cup, Palestine had played an international friendly against India and beat the host 4-2 a few weeks ago in New Delhi.
WAFF Championship was the last tournament played by Palestine in Kuwait from December 8-30, 2012. Palestine won one out of the three matches in the four-team group and crashed out from the preliminary round finishing third. Palestine beat Lebanon 1-0, lost with same margin of 2-1 against Kuwait and Oman.
Bangladesh and Nepal are well known rivals from the same sub continent associated with South Asian Football Federation. Bangladesh is ranked 169th in the FIFA rankings. The two teams have met 13 times in the past in which Bangladesh holds better records. Bangladesh has won eight, lost four and drawn once against Nepal.
The last encounter between Nepal and Bangladesh had ended in a 1-1 draw during an international friendly played at the Dasharath Stadium in September 2012. Before this, Nepal had met Bangladesh during the group stage of seventh SAFF Championship in New Delhi, India in 2011. On the occasion, Nepal had defeated Bangladesh 1-0 with a miraculous freekick goal from skipper Sagar Thapa during the fading moments.
The best result Bangladesh achieved in the Challenge Cup dates back to the first edition of the tournament at home in 2006. On the occasion, Bangladesh had made it to the quarterfinals. Since then, Bangladesh has never crossed the group stage.
The home team is in 174th position in the FIFA rankings. The best result Nepal achieved in the Challenge Cup was during the first edition of the event in 2006 when it reached the semifinals.
The home team is in 174th position in the FIFA rankings. In the last edition, Nepal made it to the final rounds, but crashed out from the group stage finishing at the bottom of the table on home turf.
As part of preparation for the qualifiers, Nepal played two friendly matches against South Asian neighbor Pakistan a few weeks ago at the Dasharath Staduim, but lost both the matches with identical 1-0 score.