The Blue Tigers will play two matches against the Gorkhalis next month.
Nepal and India will go head-to-head for two international friendlies on the September 2 and 5 in Kathmandu. The regional rivals will face each other for the first time since 2019 – when the Indian football team clinched the victory with a 2-0 scoreline. Since then, both sides have appointed new head coaches and have brought in many new players to the fold.
Both teams will be in action for the first time since the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where they both disappointingly crashed out of contention from the second round of qualifiers. Nepal finished fourth in their group after winning just two of their eight games. However, India sneaked into the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers with a third-place finish in the group. Abdullah Almutairi‘s men have conceded six goals without scoring any in their last two games.
Nepal and India will be involved in the SAFF Championships a month after these friendlies. In the build-up of the friendly games, here’s an analysis of the new-look Nepali side.
Under new head coach Abdullah Almutairi, Nepal have played four international fixtures. Three of those were from the second round of joint FIFA World Cup & Asian Championship qualifications.
The Gorkhalis suffered a 6-2 defeat against Iraq in an international friendly in Baghdad prior to the qualifiers. Deploying a new approach under Almutairi, the Nepali side convincingly scored two past a superior opponent despite the heavy defeat. The side’s only win under Almutairi so far came in the form of a 2-0 triumph against Chinese Taipei.
They lost the remaining fixtures against Jordan and Australia by 3-0. However, Nepal displayed an improved approach in all departments. Against Australia, they defended well for the entirety of the second half with a compact defensive display, despite being down to 10 men.
About The Team
Things have changed significantly for Nepal after winning the Three Nations Cup in their own backyard in March 2021. Under a new coach, Nepal will play its first regional opponents when they face India in two friendlies. After a switch from Bal Gopal Maharjan to Abdullah Almutairi, the side has held high expectations on the new head coach.
The core of the current Nepali side consists of players from the 12th South Asian Games winning squad of 2016. While the pivotal of players are currently approaching their peak, the other half of the squad consists of young guns. Relatively new to international football, the young batch’s presence is an indication of the transition that the Nepali side is going through. Indian fans can expect significant changes to the Nepalese squad compared to the side that last faced them in a friendly in Mumbai.
Abdullah Almutairi landed in Nepal as a part of the ‘development agreement’ signed between the Nepal and Qatar football associations. The tactician immediately caught attention, promising to introduce an improved and attacking approach with the national side. Prior to the Nepali stint, Almutairi coached Kyrgyzstan’s U-16 side and has plenty of experience working with the youth.
It will not be an understatement to refer to Almutairi as Nepali football’s most happening figure right now. While his on-field approach and press conferences have always attracted interest, recent off-the-pitch events have seen him trend within the Nepali football fans. Almutairi has been vocal about doing well against regional sides, particularly in the SAFF Championship, ever since his tenure began.
Players To Watch
Making his way to the Nepal national team through the youth ranks, Anjan Bista has been the team’s crown jewel in attack for a couple of years now. Bista’s performances, especially under Almutairi, have seen him develop as an incisive and versatile attacking link in the final third. A creative dribbler by nature, Bista often operates as a midfielder as well as a center forward, depending on the scenario.
The 23-year-old created Nepal’s winner against Chinese Taipei, making a late underlapping run from the left half-space. His ability to get involved in the build-up and be at the receiving end of passes behind the backline will be something to be wary about for the Indian defence.
Rohit Chand is undoubtedly the most coveted member of the Nepali national team right now. The 29-year-old was named Indonesian Liga 1’s Player of the Season for helping Persija Jakarta win their first title in 17 years in 2018. Chand has operated as a center-back in Almutairi’s system so far and is expected to continue in the same role.
Chand’s ability to play the ball out from the back – which is what Nepal do often currently – aligns with the approach that has come up with the new head coach. On several occasions, Chand takes up a Mezzala’s role, freely advancing ahead to play on his strength. In addition, the defender is often lauded for his spatial awareness and the timings of his challenges.
He spent much of his youth career at Dongducheon FC in South Korea, before joining Pocheon Citizen FC in 2020/21. After returning to his homeland, he played in the Nepal Super League for Biratnagar City and ultimately secured a spot in Almutairi’s squad with his performances.
A winger by nature, Dangi is an out-and-out winger, who likes to use his off-the-ball pace to get behind defenses. Often used as a substitute, Dangi’s operation from the half-space was crucial in the goals against Iraq, in the 2-6 defeat. His ability to accelerate and burst into spaces to cut back will be key for the Gorkhalis’ attack.
What To Expect
The two international friendlies against India will be the first challenge for Nepal against an evenly matched rival. The side looked noticeably better in its recent performances, yet is untested against sides like India and Sri Lanka. In addition, India’s recent performances against regional sides, barring the 2-0 win over Bangladesh, have been below par. Considering the difficulty that India has put up against Nepal so far – winning 13 of 19 fixtures – this will be Almutairi’s chance to show glimmers of optimism.
The side, however, has already shown its potential after escaping with a triumph against an organized side like Chinese Taipei. Either way, the friendlies will serve to fulfill the preparatory purposes for both sides involved. Nepal will tally themselves with the regional standards and check-up on the hopes of winning their first regional title. On the other hand, India will get a chance to rectify themselves against a regional opponent before the SAFF Championships.