Rain After 23-year Drought

January 23, 2016 , by DREAMS, Leave your thoughts
Rain After 23-year Drought » My Dreams Mag

Nepalese rarely smiled in 2015. The country went through the massive destruction left by earthquake that took over 9000 lives. To make the matter worse, the countrymen are living life under scarcity. In what is claimed to be an unofficial blockade imposed by India, acute shortage of petroleum products and basic goods have made life difficult. The sporadic protests in the Southern plains, resulted by ego-clash of the political leaders, have partially left the country divided.

"When would life return to normalcy?" is a question that every Nepalese has been asking. And to lift the population from a gloom, football has come up to put ointment in the wounds that Nepalese are nursing for quite a long time. Nepal won an international tournament after 23 years and they did it in style by defeating U-23 team of Bahrain 3-0 in the final of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Friday.

Celebrations across the country began because it is a title that comes at a time when hopes in each and every quarter of life has been diminishing. Nepalese are combative and they join hands together in the times of crisis but for how long? The longer crisis continues, tolerance is further tested and frustration continues. Nepal has been crisis for the last nine months and they needed a message that would convey, hope remains. The message was delivered by the national football team.

  Five finals that Nepal played  
Year Result Tournament Venue
2016   Nepal 3-0 Bahrain Bangabandhu Gold Cup   Bangladesh
1999   Nepal 0-1Bangladesh 8th SAFF Games   Nepal
1993   Nepal 2-2 India 6th SAFF Games   Bangladesh
    (Nepal won 4-3 on penalty)    
1987   India 1-0 Nepal 3rd SAFF Games   India
1984   Nepal 4-2 Bangladesh 1st SAFF Games   Nepal
A similar story
Nepali football has been on a slide for a long time. Ever since it won the 1993 South Asian Games gold, it has been haunted by back-to-back failures. Always lauded for the beautiful game they play, Nepali players have not been able to produce results.

A Nepal ‘Red’ team won the Prime Minister’s Cup in Kathmandu in 2009, the value of that tournament was not that significant because it involved two teams from the hosts itself. Their biggest achievement in between has been a final place in the 1999 SA Games that was also held in Kathmandu. Nepal were restricted to silver after they lost 1-0 to Bangladesh.

If the country was hit by a devastating earthquake and is going through a crisis, Nepali football carries a similar story. In a shocking turn of events, five Nepali footballers, including current nationals in skipper Sagar Thapa, his deputy Sandip Rai and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa were slapped with a life ban for their involvement in match-fixing. It was a quake that shook Nepali football. And, the president of the country’s football governing body, Ganesh Thapa, was also given eight-year ban by the FIFA in charges of bribery and corruption.

"A historic day," said an ecstatic coach Bal Gopal Maharjan who knows how Nepali football now needs to move ahead. "Its time for us to forget the off-field scandals and move ahead," added the coach who recently handed Nepal the first SAFF U-19 Football Championship title at the home soil.

Nepal have slid to 196th in the world rankings, once they boasted 136th spot among the 209 FIFA member countries. Almost one generation is in the threshold of bidding adieu to Nepali football. Under these circumstance, a 26-year old Biraj Maharjan wore the captain’s armband leading Nepal to a historic title at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, the same ground that gave the 1993 SA Games gold.

  Nepal’s International Hat-tricks  
  Year   Opponents Tournament Venue  
2016   Nawayug Shrestha   Maldives Bangabandhu Gold Cup   Bangladesh
2013 Bharat Khawas N Mariana Islands AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier Nepal
2001 Nirajan Rayamajhi Macau WC Qualifier Kazakhsthan
1999 Naresh Joshi Sri Lanka SAFF C’ship India
1987 Ganesh Thapa Bhutan SA Games India
From underdogs to champions
Just a little over a month ago, Nepal crashed out from the SAFF Championship in India from the group stage. They had ended into the tournament with a two-year goal drought and lost their everything when another minnows of the region, Sri Lanka, inflicted them a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat.

Nepal, though managed to break the goal drought through Bimal Gharti Magar in their next group match against India, they were ultimately hammered 4-1 to make an early exit from the tournament. Nepal’s newly recruited coach Patrick Aussems then blasted the football governing body for doing nothing for the new generation of footballers and walked out of his contract and it opened doors for Maharjan to look after the boys.

With modesty, Maharjan told media before leaving for Bangladesh that their main objective was to reach the semi-finals of the Gold Cup, a statement that underlined Nepal were clearly ranked an outsiders. The tournament unfolded according to the tag that they had wore on. Nepal began by playing a lacklustre goalless draw against Felda United — a top tier club of Malaysia.

  Bangabandhu Gold Cup Winners
Year Winners Runners-up Result
2016   Nepal   Bahrain U-23 2-1
2015 Malaysia U-23 Bangladesh 2-2 (Golden Goal)
1999 Japan League XI Ghana U-23 3-2
1996 Malaysia PSM (Indonesia) 3-0
Maharjan’s target of reaching the semi-finals was close to get accomplished when Nepal edged Sri Lanka 1-0 in their second game. They reached the semi-finals before playing their last match against Bangladesh and another goalless draw against the hosts guided them into the last four as group runners-up. But a surprise was waiting for everyone as Nepal prepared for the knockouts.

In a display of technical and attacking football, Nepal crushed Maldives 4-1 in the semi-finals where striker Nawayug Shrestha took the match by storm with a hat-trick. It was fifth international hat-trick from a Nepali footballer joining the ranks of Ganesh Thapa, Naresh Joshi, Nirajan Rayamajhi and Bharat Khawas.

Nepal had already exceeded expectations by winning the semi-final and in another dominating performance they kissed glory defeating Bahrain with a clinical display. U-19 skipper Bimal Gharti Magar, Bishal Rai and Nawayug struck in Nepal’s historic victory. Skipper Biraj had a unique statement when he was asked how it was possible to win the title.

"After reaching the semi-finals, we asked ourselves if we can be in the semis why don’t we win it. We won it. And if we can reach the final, why don’t we win it. We did it. It was the result of hard work and the integrity in the team," said Biraj.

  Nepal’s Performance in Bangabandhu Gold Cup 2016  
Final Result
vs Bahrain U-23   3-0 (Bimal Gharti Magar, Bishal Rai, Nawayug Shrestha)
Semi-final Result
vs Maldives   4-1 (Nawayug Shrestha 3, Bishal Rai)
Group Stage Result
vs Felda United   0-0
vs Sri Lanka   1-0 (Bimal Gharti Magar)
vs Bangladesh   0-0
A beginning of new era?
People following Nepali football are well aware of the frustration resulted by the failure of their players’ not being able to score goals and produce results. And at the Bangabandhu Gold Cup, they scored goals and produced results. They believed it was the change they had been seeking for a long time.

Soon after Nawayug’s hat-trick led Nepal to a thumping 4-1 win over Maldives, social media users had their own style of interpretation. "Nawa (new), Yug (era) has struck a hat-trick to herald a new era of Nepali football," a tweet was found, which might have been rightly interpretated. At a time when goals are hard to come by, Nepal produced seven goals in its last two matches, four of them were scored by Nawayug. He ended up becoming tournament’s highest scorer and most valuable player.

Nepal are preparing for the 12th SA Games in India, where football is an U-23 event. Taking the Bangabandhu Gold Cup as a tournament to fine-tune their preparation, they left out 10 of the team members that played the SAFF Championship in India. The triumphant squad includes almost a fresh crop of Nepali football that is itching to get into the senior fold, although the team was registered as a full Nepali team for the Bangabandhu Gold Cup.

The Bangabandhu Gold Cup triumph, no doubt, signals a new era in football which is now expected to be led by players like Nawayug, Bimal and an exciting talent Anjan Bista. Both Nawayug and Bimal have proved themselves in terms of stats, Bista, who didn’t score a goal in the tournament, has bolstered Nepal’s attack by the fine run he makes and the dribbling skills he has been displaying.

Goalkeeper Bikesh Kuthu is another hope in Nepali football and the custodian has already signalled his arrival in Nepali football. Nepal only conceded a single goal during the tournament, thanks to an excellent goalkeeping from Bikesh who cancelled out each and every attack of the opponents with seer athleticism and proper judgement.

The current squad has promised a lot and captain Biraj looks forward for a bright future. "There are very exciting talents in the current squad and they are young. Provided they are given regular exposure, we can produce more results like these," said Biraj.

Photo courtesy: ANFA

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