In the span of only 11 months Nepal were crowned champions in three successive international tournaments -- the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in Bangladesh, the football event in the South Asian (SA) Games and the AFC Solidarity Cup in Malaysia. That success from January to November 2016 reflects the strides that the Himalayan nation have made in football.
Such distinguished achievements at the international level within such a short period of time were only possible because of the presence of some talented footballers who have been groomed at academies of the All Nepal Football Federation (ANFA), which is very different to the system of preparing players in Bangladesh.
“Most players of the national team are from the ANFA academy. Nepalese footballers are getting good facilities and training and the management is also playing a good role in their development. The players of this generation are as talented as the previous generation, but they have been using new technology under the guidance of foreign coaches which is making the difference at international level,” opined Chhiring Lopsang Gurung, coach of Nepalese side Manang Marshyangdi Club who are taking part in the ongoing Sheikh Kamal International Tournament in Chittagong.
Nepal were once considered lightweights when compared to Bangladesh, but they have now become a big hurdle for Bangladesh, whose struggles at international level were underlined by a defeat to Bhutan in the Asian Cup Qualifiers which knocked them out of the tournament.
Bangladesh's last success in the international circuit came in 2010 when they won the football event of the SA Games. Since then, they have had a barren run and suffered losses to subcontinent opponents such as Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and India.
“If you want success, you must plan for the future and have everything in place from the beginning to the end. That's what Nepal have and that's why they are shining at the international level,” said the 51-year-old coach. “Some of the footballers are also getting a chance to play in leagues in India, Maldives and Indonesia and gathering valuable experience, while footballers like Bimal Gharti and Anjan Bista have been going for trials in European clubs which I think is a positive sign for Nepal football.”
The hard work has been paying dividends for Nepal. Despite being eliminated from the play-off stage of the Asian Cup Qualifiers, they returned for a place in the qualifiers proper as champions of the AFC Solidarity Cup after Guam withdrew from the qualifiers. Meanwhile Bangladesh, despite agreeing to participate, withdrew from the Solidarity Cup and incurred a huge fine.
“Football is changing everywhere. Nepal were down before but they have been improving. I don't know why Bangladesh are going down despite Bangladeshi players getting more facilities than Nepalese footballers. I think Bangladesh football is stuck at one level while other countries are improving fast,” opined Chhiring, who first came to Bangladesh in 1987 to play an Asian Club Championship match for Manang Marshyangdi Club against Mohammedan SC, which the hosts won 6-2.
However, Chhiring believes that although Nepal have won three successive international trophies, those achievements are little to write home about until Nepal win the SAFF Football Championship.