Contrary to expectations, 2017 turned out to be nothing but a hugely disappointing footballing year in terms of development ,progress,performance and result.
Nepali football remained stagnant, uncertain and standards plummeted,hitting rock bottom.There was/is nothing to cheer about and make you feel optimistic about the present and future.
On the competitive front, it was a year of astonishing listless, poor and depressing outcome.The national football team and youth teams were steeped in mediocrity and failure throughout the whole year like never seen before.
To put it bluntly, each team failed spectacularly when it came to playing to their potential and delivering the desired results.Considering their inconsistent, sloppy and uninspiring performance all along, they cut a sorry figure indeed.
Nightmare for Nepal in international football
International competitions, the cynosure of all eyes, proved to be a nightmare for Nepal teams.Be it the national team or youth teams,they bit the dust miserably. They fell short of expectations and performed dismally. Evidentially,the teams were inadequately prepared for the challenge, lacked motivation and desire and physical conditioning of players was questionable.
Nepal drew a blank at the 2018 Asian Confederation Football (AFC) Under-19 Championship held in Kyrgyzstan. They not only underperformed but lost all four matches to Oman, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and failed to score a single.
This was a very discouraging performance from a team that had shown so much promises, following its successful defence of the 2nd Under-18 South Asian Football Federation Championship in Bhutan prior to the AFC tourney.
To add insult to injury, the Asian football governing body slapped Nepal football association a fine of $1000 for unsportsmanship conduct on the part of players in the tournament.
Nepal followed a similar path at the 2018 AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers held in the United Arab Emirates. The team studded with senior players went down without a semblance of a fight against a much well prepared, physically and technically superior opponents in the likes of Lebanon, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates.
In total they conceded 9 goals and did not find the net once. Overall it was a sub par performance, and players lacked focus, confidence, never got going and struggled to find rhythm in the entire competition.They appeared mentally drained and physically exhausted.
Nepal stumbled against India in the final of the 2017 Under-15 South Asian Football Federation Championship held in Kathmandu.
However, a month later it was a different story in the 2018 AFC Under-16 Championship qualifiers held in Kathmandu. Apart from drawing with India they went down to Palestine and Iraq. to finish last in the group.
Going into 2017, fans had high hopes for the team that had performed exceedingly well and enjoyed rare success in 2016.
They had momentum on their side,regained the much needed confidence and found a way to make things happen. In addition, there was no dearth of talent.
The youthful outfit had a glorious chance to prove themselves further at 2018 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup Qualifiers. They faced opponents in Philippines, Yemen and Tajikistan of the same level and stood a chance against them.
Instead they slipped into mediocrity from the opener against Philippines and never recovered. Rather than bouncing back from mistakes and setbacks, they got stuck in mediocrity and ultimately paid the price.
Coach Koji disappoints
In his second year as Head Coach of the national football team of Nepal Japanese Koji Gyotoku performance has been on a downward spiral. He has failed to achieve anything productive, and he is unable to inspire and uplift the team that has been underperforming since he took over.
The Japanese is clearly lacking character, qualities and the right approach to become an effective coach. We have a long list of terrific homegrown coaches who can do a much better job.
Nepal Football’s biggest obstacle ANFA
The irony of the situation is that All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) itself remains the biggest obstacle to football progress.
At the heart of ANFA’s problems is a deep lack of accountability, gross mismanagement, poor leadership, incompetence, failed governance , dishonesty and corruption.
What is so striking about ANFA is they never learn from their mistakes and are guilty of repeating the same mistakes. They are an absolute disaster, and they are only getting worse. Also they have lost the trust of the public. Unfortunately,nobody cares one bit,including the government.
While ANFA has invested all the effort, time and resources to protect their personal interests, they have pushed football development to the backburner. The constant postponement of ANFA and district football association elections, stagnant Nepali football, absence of national league , declining standards of football and many more- all speaks for itself.
Remember, minus ex ANFA President Ganesh Thapa,ANFA still has the old management in place in the hands of the same people who are keeping the same damaging practice ,intact.
It comes as no surprise that Nepal football is in such a sad state of affairs and teams are performing so poorly in international competitions.
Domestic Football competitions aplenty
Football popularity in the country remains at an all time high. There has been no lack of tournaments in the country, thanks largely to private sector involvement.
Every year uncountable number of tournaments take place across the country attracting teams from Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The clubs look upon these tournaments as premier destinations.From these competitions have emerged new talents of all levels in abundance over the years.
Anil Gurung retires
Former skipper of the national football team Anil Gurung hung up his boots for good recently.He played his final match against Philippines in the 2018 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Kathmandu, thus ending his international career, but he will continue playing club football.
The ace striker who plays for MMC scored 9 goals in 50 international appearances . You will be missed.
2018 -Low Expectations
With the way things stand, I don’t see how 2018 will be a better year for Nepal football,especially under ANFA.
What ANFA needs is a complete overhauling, bold and dynamic leadership, coupled with professional workforce and real reform in order to take football in the right direction.Otherwise, Nepal football is headed for much worse.
Sushil Thapa is a senior sports journalist based in Fairfax, VA, USA. Comments are welcome.
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