Nepal made a dream start to the 13th South Asian Football Championship with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over the host country Maldives in Male, Maldives.
Team Nepal, hoping to end the trophy drought, needed a strong start against Maldives in the opener. Prior to kick off, they entered the match with a lot at stake. The math was simple- They could not afford a defeat in order to put themselves in contention for the title.
In Maldives, they faced a tough opponent with history on their side. The head-to-head encounters between the two sides dominated by Maldives had them on the front foot. They were the slight favorites to win the match. Nepal had to overcome the psychological barrier to prevail over the home team. It was doable only if they overcame the mental block and played to their full potential.
This was one huge opportunity for the youthful Nepali outfit to prove themselves, turn the tables, break the shackles and come out on top. The onus was on them to deliver the result. Unlike the past, there was no disappointment this time much to everyone’s relief and delight.
Evidently the team was under intense pressure to perform well. Overcoming early jitters and withstanding constant pressure to win, they managed to pull off a well deserved victory at the end of the day. I congratulate Head Coach Abdullah and his boys for scripting the much needed win. The success was the result of collective effort, individual brilliance, fighting spirit, resilience and effective execution of the game plan.
A brilliant goal in the final minutes of play by young talent Manish Dangi who came in as a substitute sealed the deal for Nepal. In a display of composure, confidence and skill, the youngster slotted the winning goal after getting past several defenders. The upcoming star declared man of the match deserves a pat on his back for his outstanding clinical finish.In fact, the combination play between two substitutes midfielder Bishal Rai and Dangi on a counter attack paved the way for the decisive goal.
Going by the match statistics, Maldives had the lion share of the game in terms of ball possession, offensive and midfield domination. The defense saved the day for Nepal.They rose to the occasion and defended solidly throughout to keep the offense-minded opponent at bay.
Nepal must capitalize on a good start and ride early momentum into a challenging stretch.They have to maintain their composure, confidence, motivation, consistency, intensity and high performance level. It is vital not to let the fine start go to waste. There is absolutely no room for sloppiness and mediocrity in their performance as every remaining match is of immense importance.
Despite victory over Maldives,Team Nepal still has a long way to go.They must remain laser focussed on for the next matches. The team has to improve offensively when it comes to build-up play,ball possession and finishing. In addition,midfielders have to get more creative,involved and bring more fluidity to their style of play.
Nepal must be in peak form against Sri Lanka on Monday.They have to improve team cohesion and will require a dominating, aggressive and consistent performance to get the better of them. Players must show their hunger for success and give one hundred percent effort.
The Islanders are no gimme by any stretch of the imagination.They are physically tough and determined to bounce back after defeat against Bangladesh.Nepal must rise up to the challenge of their opponent.
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax,VA, USA
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