Kathmandu March 20 - All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) today called four new faces in the national team for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying matches to be held in Kathmandu later this month. Rakesh Shrestha has been retained as the skipper of the team that will play three Group ‘C’ matches against Palestine, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Nepal will open their campaign with a match against Palestine on March 26. They will next play against Kyrgyzstan two days later before facing Afghanistan on March 30.
The squad consists of three goalkeepers in Bikash Malla, Ritesh Thapa and Kiran Chemjong. Skipper Shrestha will lead the defence along with Sagar Thapa, Biraj Maharjan, Anjan KC, Chun Bahadur Thapa, Rabin Shrestha, Deepak Bhusal and Rohit Chand. Vishan Gauchan, Sandeep Rai, Raju Tamang, Vijay Gurung, Bhola Nath Silwal, Chetan Ghimire and Santosh Nepali are the midfielders in the team. Anil Gurung, Ju Manu Rai, Yugal Kishor Rai, Santosh Sahukhala and Nirajan Rayamajhi are the strikers. Yogamber Suwal is the chief coach of the team, while Baiju Kapali, Kishor KC and Upendra Man Singh are his deputies.
The 23-member squad was picked from the 31 players called for the closed camp. “This is the best team selected from the best available players,” said chief coach Yogamber Suwal. “We are in tough group as all other teams are stronger than us,” he added. “We are also not weak but we hope to give tough fight to Afghanistan,” he added. Suwal said the team management decided to give out-of-form striker Rayamajhi, who is known as the goal-machine, the last chance. “We have decided to give him the last opportunity as an honour,” said Suwal. “As we have the previledge of having 23 players in the squad, Rayamajhi’s inclusion will not make any adverse effect for us,” he added. Asked about the Nepal Police Club midfielders Ananta Thapa and Parbat Pandey, the former NPC coach said the duo were not considered for selection because of their poor performance in the last three knock-out tournaments. “They (Ananta and Parbat) did not perform well in the knock out tournaments in Pokhara, Dharan and Jhapa,” he added. Ananta Thapa was the skipper of the departmental team of Nepal Police that won the Martyr Gold Cup in Jhapa after being knocked out from in Aaha Gold Cup in Pokhara and Budha Subba Gold Cup in Dharan.
Regarding the exclusion of Nabin Neupane and Khum Gurung, Suwal said the duo failed to impress in the recently-held Prime Minister Cup Invitational Football Tournament. Other five players who could not make it to the national team were Rupak Shrestha, Nur Raj Kafle, Sanjeev Budhathoki, Suman Subedi, Ranjeet Shrestha and Nirajan Malla. Rohit Chand, Chetan Ghimire, Santosh Nepali and Deepak Bhusal are the four new faces in the national team. Influential midfielder Pradeep Maharjan, striker Nirajan Khadka and defender Lok Bandhu Gurung have been sidelined due to injury.