The women’s national football team of Nepal had a glorious opportunity to make history in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Football tournament 2024 held in Kathmandu recently.
The 100th-ranked Nepal was pitted against a formidable 33rd-ranked Vietnam in the two home matches. Given Vietnam’s impressive FIFA World rankings and steady rise in the past few years, they were favorites against Nepal. By all counts the odds were stacked against the home team,but it was a chance for them to prove themselves and exceed our expectations. All they had to do was perform to their ability,show consistency, rise to the occasion,combine superb individual and collective effort and fully capitalize home advantages. As a matter of fact,expectation was high, especially following Nepal’s decent performance against India in two friendly matches held in India prior to the Olympic qualifiers.They had drawn both matches.
No doubt,the national team has shown marked improvement when it comes to performance lately. It may be recalled that in the last SAFF Championship held in Kathmandu,they were one match away from winning the elusive title but went down to a superior Bangladesh in the final. In the semifinal they wrote history after notching a convincing victory against India for the first time.
The Group “C” first round qualifier was reduced to a two team contest following the withdrawal of Afghanistan and Palestine. Contrary to expectations,the script did not go accordingly for Nepal against Vietnam.They surrendered both matches meekly and looked a pale shadow of their former. They were unimpressive and played uninspiring football throughout.It was a tale of struggle as they failed to find tempo,rhythm and momentum.Furthermore,they were overcome by mediocrity and on the back foot for the most part. The opening match was a complete disaster for the home team as they were exposed and overwhelmed by the opposition’s fast paced, well-coordinated and aggressive play. They were outplayed and outmaneuvered in every department of the game.
Such was the domination of the visitors that they scored at will finding the net on five occasions.Nepal just managed to score a goal to avoid whitewash. After a rude awakening in the first match, Nepal’s bounce back effort went in vain.They did minimize the damage to two goals but once again failed to make an impression for the second successive match. The setback Nepal suffered did not come as a complete surprise. They lost to a superior and well prepared outfit that played intelligent and purposeful football. On the whole,Nepal churned out a disappointing performance.They were well below their best and should have performed much better.
As for Vietnam it was a well-deserved victory.They played to their form and billing, displaying plenty of creativity and positivity in their performance. They are a very energetic and talented lot with a great future.They are following the footsteps of their men’s football team that have made remarkable inroads in Asian football in recent years. As a matter of fact,women's football in Nepal continues to remain in a state of neglect, uncertainty and stagnancy,coupled with lack of resources and support. In the current scenario there is lack of funding at grass-roots, absence of age group structure and district and national-level leagues.
The challenges All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) faces is unprecedented.They are to blame themselves for turning a blind eye to women’s football for years. Thus far, ANFA has been all talk and no action. They need to step up, prioritize and take women's football very seriously and do whatever it takes to develop in the right way.So much remains to be done. It reminds me of Courtney C Stevens famous quote, “ If nothing changes, nothing changes”.
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA, USA
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