"This time I am less worried about the defense line and goalkeeping position which is our strength," Suwal said apparently showing his worry about the strikers. The morale of Nepali football team has sky-rocketed after last Saturday´s Prime Minister´s Cup triumph of Nepal (Red) team following a 4-2 tiebreaker win over the Sri Lankan national team. But AFC Challenge Cup will be a different ball game, says coach Suwal.
Suwal, who earlier led Nepal national teams twice - once in the 7th SAF Games and then in the world cup qualifier, feels that this team is technically better than his earlier teams. "I am not over optimistic of the Nepali team´s chances of qualifying to the final round. However, I am sure this team will play to its full potential in front of the home crowd," Suwal hopes despite his worries about the Nepali players´ lack of consistency.
Twenty-three players were named for the national team on Friday from among 31 players who underwent extensive training at the Police Training Center, Maharajgunj. Former Nepali national team captain and goalkeeper Upendra Man Singh, who is looking after the team in capacity of a goalkeeping coach, says that competition among the three goalies - Ritesh Thapa, Bikash Malla and Kiran Chemjong - has lifted their performance. "They are competing among themselves to be in the playing eleven. Training these three keepers for the last two years has yielded good dividends," Singh feels.
Nepal is placed in the group of death in the competition alongside Afghanistan, Palestine and Kyrgyzstan. All these three Group C opponents have more international exposure than Nepal though the former two are ranked below Nepal in the latest FIFA Rankings that puts Nepal at 172, Afghanistan at 184, Palestine at 174 and Kyrgyzstan at 155. Some of the Kyrgyz and Palestine players have been playing in German and other European leagues which will give them big advantage apart from their physical superiority.
This is the third edition of the AFC Challenge Cup tournament that saw Nepal reach the last four in the inaugural episode in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But after going down to Sri Lanka that eventually lost the final to Tajikistan, Nepal exited from the group stage in the second edition two years later in India. Nepal pitted with Sri Lanka, Myanmar and DPR Korea failed to advance after defeats against the latter two despite a resounding 3-0 thrashing of the Lankans with goals from Jumanu Rai, Anjan KC and Santosh Sahukhala. India won the tournament beating Tajikistan in the final at home. Nepal will take on Kyrgyzstan on March 26, Palestine on 28 and Afghanistan on 30. The games will be played at the Dasharath Stadium and the Armed Police Force Ground, Hallchowk.
Final round of the AFC Challenge Cup will be held in India in January 2010.