Korea Republic is going to host the 17th edition of Asian Games in Incheon in which football will be played from September 14 to October 3, 2014. Although the games shall provide platform for players from vast array of disciplines, Nepal U23 team would look ahead to play football at these games.
Asian games is not considered as valuable as the continent's greatest competition for football but at the same time provides the platform for the tomorrow's senior side. Japan, Iraq, Iran and Korea U23 have all developed their skill to challenge the World's best.
Nepal U23 shall have opportunity to test their skill against the likes of Japan, Iraq and Kuwait at this event.
Nepal has been seeded in Group D alongside the powerhouses Japan, Iraq and Kuwait. Nepal is the only side in this group which has never been past the group stage. Meanwhile all other three nations have been to the podium.
Japan has won a gold (2010) and silver medal (2002) on football at these games, while Kuwait has won silver twice (1998, 1982) and Iraq has won gold once (1982). This clearly demonstrates that Group D is 'Group of Death' at least for Nepal U23 team. Unless Nepal can repeat the likes of Costa Rica at last World Cup which is highly implausible.
Nepal will play Iraq first, then Kuwait and finally Japan on September 14, 17 and 21 respectively.
Nepal U23 outside the SAFF
Being Asia as the growing footballing continent, the nations from one corner to next rarely meets. The Middle East has their own Federation while there are likes of ASEAN and SAFF. We all know the performance of the national team and have to accept the fact that we still have to wait for cream of excellence at the higher level.
Perhaps current U-16 side can prove us wrong and make us jubilant with surprise in the future but we still have to wait and watch. The current challenge is the Asian Games at Incheon, Korea Republic.
Nepal U23 has only won a single match encounter against any nation outside the SAFF. It came against Jordan in 2012 when they defeated them 3-0 at //stadium and location//. Even the performance against the SAFF nations is also less inspiring. Nepal has rarely salvaged a point with a draw or the match has ended in a defeat. This campaign looks bleak on and off the papers for the U23 side.
Preparations to Asian Games 2014
Surprisingly Nepalese U23 has not played any competitive matches since June 2012. The last win came against Jordan at Dasarath Rangasala Stadium during the AFC U22 Championship Qualifiers. The dire competitive experience of the Nepal U23 means that the trip to Incheon is just going to be a formality.
Nepal U23 has played training matches against clubs in Nepal and Bangladesh. This is not so up to the standard that requires Nepal to prepare for the competition. Even with these non-competitive matches, Nepal was able to salvage a win against African United Club while drew all other games in Nepal. Nepal also lost their game to Bangladesh U23, 1-0.
Comparing preparations of Nepal U16, it seems ANFA does not seem interested to prepare Nepal U23 for Asian Games at Incheon.
There are highs and falls in all fields and that involves football teams as well. But what only continuous is a learning curve. We all know that in any competition, the games are not only decided by skill and energy but also by chances, created opportunities as well as split second decisions. Only one team can stand on the gold medalist podium but all teams return with the vital learning experience to move forward to reach that maturity.
Asian Games 2014 shall be that learning curve for all participating nations including Nepal U23. The chances of Nepal to play against the likes of these nations is rare. The national team has to take full advantage during the tournament as almost all our players don't have experience of playing at Professional level.
There is no conclusion in real life yet to compare the football team and cricket team would be nightmarish for the Nepalese fans. Nepal U23 has to understand its weaknesses and strength. Nepal has to work on counter attacks and set pieces rather than possession play.
I believe that Nepalese football still has to reach that maturity where possession play can lead to some result. Nepal must sit back and hit on counter.
I believe Nepal has to adapt 5-3-1-1 formation which can adapt into 3-4-3 during the counter attacks which means we would require a high fledged wingers who can both defend and attack. It would be very difficult to manoeuvre this at the games but if we can replicate at rare breaks, we can put pressure on the opposition.
What we can expect?
Football is full of surprises but to salvage a win would be impossible demand at these games. We have to be pragmatic and hope that the national team would concede fewer goals and at least a clean sheet would be great. But we know the firepower of the Japan, Iraq and Kuwait.
We can expect fewer touches from the striker while it would be high pressure on our defender. We surely require man of the match performance from the outfield player who shall sit between the sticks.
We know Nepalese football is growing, we are participating more international competitions than ever before. But the players has to overcome their lack of domestic experiences as the national league has been halted and has to rely on occasional regional domestic competitions. And we all know it is not enough for players to be fully fit. Only training without real matches leads no results.
'Fail to Prepare is Prepare to Fail!'
At the end of the tournament, we as Nepalese football fans- I request all let us not criticise the players if the results did not came our way. And at the same time players should not escape the criticism and blame ANFA for not able to facilitate the National League. We all have to understand the scenario and move ahead together.
Nepal U23 has to take this games as a stepping stone rather than the destination. For all participating players it would be an honour to represent the nation. It will provide them platform to display what they can do in front of the World and most importantly move the progress made by ANFA ahead.
All the best for the Nepal U23 team as well as other players participating and representing Nepal at the 2014 Asian Games.