Perhaps the 8th SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship would have gone down as a landmark event for Nepal’s football history had Nepal’s berth in the final been secure with win over Afghanistan in the semi final on September 8, 2013. The Nepali football fans were looking more enthusiastic and optimistic as well seen from their tireless queues in front of the ticket counters starting as early as 5 am just for securing their seats to watch the most sought-after match at Dasarath stadium.
The history of SAFF games is not older than three decades and the group comprises eight South Asian members of SAARC (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) of which Afghanistan is the latest entrant. Afghanistan has been ranked as South Asia’s best in football ranking by FIFA (Federation of International Football Association).
What a coincidence! Nepal was locked with Afghanistan in the semi final in Kathmandu, and the same teams had played against each other in 2011 during the 7th SAFF Championship. Emotions were high for both teams and they seem prepared to defeat their opponents although none had better undermined each other because in games no outcome is guaranteed until the last moment of the game.
Looking at the past, Nepal has become SAFF champion only once in 1993 when Bangladesh hosted the event. Since the country has not progressed beyond the semi final stage and the match against Afghanistan was considered to be very crucial. If Nepal had won, it would have not only reached the final but would also be credited with a win over the best team among the South Asian nations.
Nepal’s recent performance judged by her three matches against Bangladesh, Pakistan and India during SAFF Championship attest to the fact that she has consoled the football fans after years of disappointment faced in international matches where Nepal sent her football squads. Does it then suggest that All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) has learnt the lessons from their mistakes in the past and accordingly improved their style of working especially in motivating the gifted players?
Truly speaking, it has some elements of truth despite the fact that ANFA has many hurdles to overcome in earning international reputation by preparing a good Nepali football squad. Some commentators have been optimistically saying that Nepal has been doing well in cricket and football in the recent times.
The starting match Nepal played with Bangladesh in her group A sent a very strong message that this time Nepal has reasons to fear its players, who having capitalized on the support of home crowds, scored two goals to nil enhancing Nepal’s chance to move forward in group rankings.
The draw with a strong opponent like Pakistan too signaled that Nepal was likely to perform better during this championship. More importantly, Nepal scored a win over the defending champion of the tournament, India, with a score of 2-1. It was a spectacular victory clinched by Nepal in twenty years as back in 1993 Nepal had won the trophy becoming the SAFF Champion in which India had to contend with runners up.
Based on the history of conceding to India all the times but in 1993, the Nepali fans were overwhelmed with joy. Little wonder that Nepal added a new chapter in the history of SAFF Championship by winning the match in which the contest was between a country of billion and around thirty million population. Definitely India has such a large reserve of players and it can claim to have better sporting facilities compared to Nepal. Hence, India’s defeat at the hands of Nepal during current SAFF Championship was something worthy of celebration.
On account of series of victories in group matches and emerging as the country with the highest points in Group A, many have justifiable reasons to predict that Nepal could advance through semi final, a game in which she was facing the toughest team both in terms of football skills and physical stamina. Afghan players had better international experience as most of them were attached to European clubs, which gave them an edge over our team in which only of them had been privileged to play outside Nepal.
Having been forced to watch the semi final at my home after being disappointed to be denied a single ticket in either of the areas though I queued up in front of the booking office from 7am for almost five hours learning that the tickets would be sold after 8am, my feeling is that the Nepalese players had been trying their best to score but in vein. Maybe, luck has some role to play even in competition like this as we saw our player missing the penalty shoot out besides the missed goals when the ball hit the goal bar. Fairness-wise our players were adjudged better because the other side had more fouls during the match and our team had made several goal attempts. Admittedly, Afghan goalkeeper was smarter than ours.
At a time when Nepal was so close to victory in the 8th SAFF, we have been hurt emotionally seeing our team thrown out of the tournament facing the same opponent in semi final, when we had been hoping the avenge the defeat in the last championship match at Delhi. Whatever has happened cannot be overturned now but there are a few pieces of advice for our people at the helm of football association that should bear the responsibility.
As was rumored the All Nepal Football Association had decided to offer a handsome package of prizes to our players should they win the championship. Such initiatives encourage talent and dedication of the players. They should keep it up in future as well. If they are fair enough to choose the best among the available players, then we can be hopeful and success will follow us sooner or later.
Furthermore, the management side of ANFA has come under heavy criticism during tournament and there is hardly any ground to refute such allegation of fraud, when some office bearers of the apex organization were caught red handed in selling tickets in black market. This scribe has himself been a victim of such condemnable practice as I was returned empty handed despite having been in time and in the queue for hours together in front of Tripureswore booking counter on September 8.
A few practical steps can be taken to improve management aspect, which are as follows:
1. Tickets be sold days in advance,
2. Tickets be made available on line, if possible (for those possessing credit cards and having easy access to internet could benefit immensely),
3. Rates of tickets be announced in advance and no change should be entertained once tournament starts,
4. Security personnel (police) be deployed inside the booking counter and outside to check the queue so that those who come first are served first. Police can even control black marketing of tickets and such evil practice can easily be curbed if a limit (2-3 or 4-5 at the maximum) of tickets is imposed per buyer.
It all demands sincere commitment on the part of ANFA. If it promises to improve upon its work, it can do a lot and controlling fraud behavior helps it to collect huge amount of money from ticket sale, which then can be productively spent in motivating the promising sportsmen. There is no lack of talent but it remains underutilized and the ball is on the court of ANFA. Should it remain committed to work harder, there is no reason why Nepal will not lift the trophy in days to come.