Subas Humagain, Kathmandu
With just a month remaining until the SAFF Championship, the most prestigious football competition in South Asia, the Nepali National Men’s Football Team is facing challenges in their preparation. The ongoing A Division League is entering into the final phase, and the injuries and lack of time has impacted the national team’s composition. On current schedule, the team will have only one day of full training in Nepal, as the league schedule cannot be adjusted. Having a closed camp for team selection looks impossible.
Nepal’s first match in the SAFF Championship is against Kuwait on June 21. Prior to that, they will play an international friendly match against the Philippines on June 15. However, the team will have only one day to train in Nepal before departing for the friendly match.
The A Division League concludes on June 10. To travel for the Philippines match, Nepal’s team will have to leave at least on June 13. The team will supposedly train on 11th of June, a day after league ends. But players from six clubs who played on the last day will not be able to attend the session fully. Hence, the Italian coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese, will only be able to train with his team fully on June 12.
During the league, there are rest days on June 2, 5, and 8. National team coach Annese may utilize these days for tactical training like he has been doing in the rest days of the league. However, this approach has received criticism from club officials.
The decision to call up players for the national team during the league break has drawn criticism, and clubs are frustrated when key players are unavailable for training the day before their matches. As the league nears its conclusion and with the title race and relegation battles intensifying, it remains uncertain how ANFA (All Nepal Football Association) will handle the coordination with disgruntled clubs. Additionally, no rigid plans are in place in case matches need to be rescheduled due to weather or technical reasons.
Currently, the tactical training of the national team is not as effective. The players who were part of the starting lineup in previous day are participating in the session too. At times, players who were on the playing field until 8 o’clock in the evening are brought back to the field at 9 o’clock the next morning. Due to poor coordination by ANFA in league schedule, the national team coach has been forced to conduct training in such manner.
There has been instances when Nepal used to train for months ahead of SAFF Championship in the past. The Nepali team has also achieved good results due to sufficient friendly games and preparation time. But this time, there are fears that the players will not be able to give their best performance due to fatigue. It is certainly not fair to expect results from tired players in the national team.
At the start of the league, coach Annese was asked about the impact of the league schedule on the team. Despite being informed that the schedule couldn’t be changed due to ANFA and the clubs, he continued working in a challenging environment. His patience is also tested with national team players being sidelined due to successive injuries.
Army’s young defender Bikash Khawas’ injury has compounded the challenge of finding an alternative in left back position. Already short of options before Annese’s arrival, Bikash’s injury means there is now an urgent need to fill that position.
Furthermore, midfielder Arik Bista and forward Bimal Gharti Magar are also sidelined due to injuries. Majority of players involved in the national team’s strategic training have been affected by injuries during this season. Concerns are growing that more players may join this list as the crucial and demanding league period approaches.
With poor league schedule and inadequate training planning for the national team, Nepal appears to face a tough time in the upcoming SAFF Championship. Placed in a challenging group, Nepal will compete against Kuwait, India, and Pakistan in the group stage. Insufficient preparation has already hindered Nepal’s aspirations of clinching the title for the first time.
Probable Plan of Nepalese Team ahead of SAFF Championship :
June 10 – A Division League ends (3 days of tactical training in between)
June 11 – National Team Training (Rest for players from 6 clubs who played previous day)
June 12 – ONLY DAY with Full Training
June 13 – Leave for the Philippines
June 14 – Prepare for Philippines match
June 15 – Nepal vs Philippines : INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY
June 16 – Return from Philippines
June 17 – Rest/Training
June 18 – Leave for India*
*If Nepal goes directly to India, one day extra for training
June 19 – Train in India
June 20 – Prepare for Kuwait Match
June 21- Kuwait vs Nepal
June 24 – Nepal vs India
June 27 – Nepal vs Pakistan
July 1 – Semi Finals
July 4 – FINAL