It’s been a long time coming. Having been close on numerous occasions in the past, Nepal had hit a barrier in every attempt of regional glory in history.
But this time, a team of young guns led by a man from Kuwait who exudes passion and heart, Abdullah Almutairi, has bettered every team that contested in the past to make the final of the SAFF Championships held in Male.
These times are historic for Nepali football. These times exude exuberance. These times are a long time coming. Nepalese fans have gone through many hardships in the team’s history to get to this moment. And on Saturday evening in Male, when Nepali players take the field, the whole nation will be cheering the young guns with all their heart to go on and win the title against neighbors India.
Journey to the final showdown:
Both teams have had contrasting journeys to get to the final. Nepal started in a significant fashion while India took their time to get to winning ways. Nepal were flying after two games thanks to victories against the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
However, they did complicate things in their third game, where they showed a rather dull performance losing the game after conceding a solitary goal late in the game.
Nepal left it late to level the game in their final round-robin clash, where they needed a point to go through. Anjan Bista’s coolly taken penalty in the 88th minute proved enough for Nepal to get to their first SAFF Championship final.
On the other hand, India, the tournament favorites, had a somewhat sluggish start drawing two opening games against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka but won their next two games against Saturday’s opponents Nepal and the Maldives to get to this stage.
Coaches’ comments before the game:
Abdullah Almutairi did not appear to speak on behalf of his team prior to the game, which will be his final with the Gorkhalis. In the press conference following the game against India, he announced his departure. Kiran Shrestha, the assistant coach, took the place of the Kuwaiti once more. He stated that the team is in good spirits ahead of the final and that they intend to win the championship.
"The final against India is a big game. It will be difficult for us, but we are prepared. We're completely focused, and the boys are extremely motivated. We are not overconfident " Shrestha stated in a virtual meet.
He also stated that the team would be looking to attack more than they did earlier in the tournament when these two sides met.
“We will defend and attack effectively. In fact, we will correct our mistakes and improve our performance tomorrow. We'll play for the result (title),” he added.
In contrast, India coach Igor Stimac stated that his team will not be complacent and will not allow the team to be overconfident ahead of Saturday's match.
"We are growing as a group, as a team, and as a big family every day, playing better football." We must be patient, confident, and work hard. Nepal is a well-known opponent to us, as we are to them. We are confident because we have won the last two games. But, as I've said before, we're not overconfident," Stimac told AIFF.
Sunil Chhetri, India's captain, praised his opponents, saying that Nepal plays better as a team despite not having a standout player.
Interesting situations have emerged in both camps ahead of the final, with both teams dealing with injuries and suspensions. Nepal will be without their go-to winger/center-forward Anjan Bista courtesy of two yellow cards thus far in the tournament. Manish Dangi, who has been chiefly used off the bench in this tournament, is in contention to start in place of Bista. Pujan Uperkoti, a regular name on the team sheet for Nepal, injured himself in the warm-ups last game and is still a doubt ahead of the final. The extent of his injury is still unknown. Rohit Chand might take Pujan’s place in the defensive midfield role in Pujan’s place. Nepal are expected to play in a 4-3-3 setup.
Expected Nepal XI: Kiran Kumar Limbu (GK/C), Gautam Shrestha, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Ananta Tamang, Suman Aryal, Tej Tamang, Rohit Chand, Suman Lama, Manish Dangi, Ayush Ghalan, Nawayug Shrestha.
India’s Croatian coach Igor Stimac got himself sent off late in the crucial encounter against the Maldives, making him unavailable on the sidelines come Saturday. They will also be without their center-back, Shubhashish Bose, who also got sent off in the dying minutes of the last match. Brandon Fernandes, the Indian no. 10, was stretchered off in the previous game due to a thigh injury is still a doubt for this game, and his availability is still to be accessed. Farukh Chaudhary is still with an ACL injury he suffered earlier in the tournament against Nepal. India are expected to play in a 4-4-2 formation.
Expected India XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Pritam Kotal, Rahul Bheke, Chinglensana Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Lalangmawia Ralte, Mohammad Yasir, Udanta SIngh. Manvir Singh, Sunil Chhetri.
Action Sports will be broadcasting this match live in Nepal.
October 16, 8:45 NST
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