Nepali women’s football team continues to show promise and potential

Preeti Rai - WAFF Women’s Championship
Preeti Rai celebrates after scoring a last-minute winner against Lebanon in the semi-final of the WAFF Women’s Championship.

The Nepali women’s football team has probably never been discussed as much in Nepal as they have over the past week. The Nepali women’s football team, which recently finished as runners-up in the WAFF Women’s Championship, were even given a hero’s welcome. They were celebrated like no other team as the entire nation watched the women punch above their weight and compete with the best in the world.

The final against Jordan was watched by Nepalis all over the world with the match peaking at 400,000 views at one point. Despite losing agonisingly on penalties, the women were hailed heroes in Nepal who narrowly missed out against the defending champions and West Asian powerhouse Jordan.

While the Nepali women’s football team has not yet clinched a title after almost four decades of international play, there remains a sense of optimism surrounding women’s football in the country. This optimism stems from the evident promise and potential demonstrated by the players.

Best is yet to come

Nepali players celebrate a last minute penalty against Jordan in the final of the WAFF Championship.

Captain Anjila Tumbapo Subba, who returned to India to play in the Indian Women’s League after leading Nepal in the WAFF Championship, said that despite the heartbreaking loss in the final, the team had come back more resilient and determined.

“We narrowly missed out on our first title but we showed how strong we are as we refused to give up even in the final moments of the match against Jordan,” said Subba.

Despite the optimism shown by Subba, this was Nepal’s 11th loss in the final of a major tournament. Since the team was formed in 1986, it has lost five times in the SAFF Championship, three times in the South Asian Games, Hero Gold Cup, Nadezda Gold Cup and the WAFF Women’s Championship.

While the team did face adversity once again, the women showcased remarkable resilience and performance in Saudi Arabia, earning commendation and applause. Despite facing challenges, they demonstrated a fighting spirit that deserves recognition.

Despite the limited preparation time, Nepal exhibited a dogged style of play. Their journey to the final, marked by easy victories in all three group-stage matches and a comeback win against Lebanon in the semi-finals, showed how much they wanted to get over the line.

In the final against Jordan, the defending champions and tournament favourites, Nepal put up a formidable fight. Despite taking the lead in the first half, Nepal could not hold on to it. Soon the team were staring down the barrel of another final loss as Jordan scored two second-half goals, including one late on. But the team did not give up and scored a clutch penalty to take the game to a shootout.

Luck, however, was not on Nepal’s side as they lost the final. Despite that, the women showed their potential and determination.

If you take away the shootout, the Nepali women’s football team had an amazing tournament. Sabitra Bhandari, Nepal’s superstar football, was superb scoring nine goals in four matches. However, due to her club commitments, she had to return to France. Her absence undoubtedly left a hole in the team. It is natural to speculate that with Bhandari’s presence, the result might have been different for Nepal. However, in football, there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. The reality is that she was not available for the final match and Nepal lost.

The players, however, can be proud of themselves. They were able to do all this with nothing but sheer will. The All Nepal Football Association has not been able to conduct domestic football tournaments for over two years. This has meant many women have had to go to India to fulfil their passion.

Despite all this, the team still played their best as they promised to come back stronger than ever.

Women’s football team’s message to Nepal

Nepal women’s team with their runners-up medal.

The women’s football team has shown how much potential they have. Despite internal disputes and challenges weakening Nepali football, their performance has infused hope and optimism among Nepali fans.

Subba, the team’s captain, has called on the government and ANFA to prioritize Nepali women’s football as she believes that could be the defining factor in the team winning something big in the future. With several women footballers playing in women’s leagues across the world, the team feels it has what it takes to reach the next level.

“If they invest in us, we can do even better,” she says.

Among the 23 players in the Nepali team, six are currently participating in the Indian Women’s League. In addition to Subba, defender Geeta Rana plays for Sethu FC in India. Likewise, Preeti Rai and Deepa Shahi play for Kickstart FC, while Amrita Jaihi and Rashmi Kumari Ghising play for Sports Odisha. Subba and Rana have gone to India to join the team while the others are in Nepal.

Similarly, Bhandari now plays for France’s En Avant Guingamp and marked her return to the team with her debut with a goal against Lille.

This shows that Nepali players possess the capability to excel not only domestically but also on international platforms.

Need for investment and games

WAFF Women's Championship

Despite the limited resources, zero investment, and a lack of domestic football infrastructure, Nepali women’s footballers have gained recognition through their performances on the field.

Now, the players and the fans are calling on ANFA to help these women get to the next step. As the women returned, calls were initiated for a women’s football league, establishing grassroots programs and academies starting from the women’s age groups is crucial for the long-term development of the sport.

ANFA has recently unveiled its annual calendar for 2024-25, which includes only three programs for women’s senior and junior categories. Notably, the calendar outlines a plan for a women’s football league competition to be conducted in two stages. The competition is slated to commence in March, with the final stage scheduled for July. While this initiative is a step in the right direction, further efforts and resources are needed to fully support and promote women’s football in Nepal.

The U18 Women’s Youth League is scheduled to be held in November, while the U-14 School Tournament (Girls) is scheduled to be held in May-June.

Additionally, on the international front, the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) will host the U16 SAFF Women’s Championship as part of its regular program. Notably, Nepal is set to host the SAFF U-16 Championship. Meanwhile, Nepal’s participation in the SAFF U-19 Championship took place in Bangladesh.

Furthermore, the ANFA has earmarked a date for a friendly match involving the women’s football team. However, the specific opponent and location for this match have yet to be determined.

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Nepal is a sports correspondent for Onlinekhabar.

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