SAFF Women’s Championship 2022: Nepal have nothing but hope for magic to defeat India

Nepali women's football team caught in action
Nepali women’s football team caught in action Image: Bikash Shrestha

India’s dominance in all of the sports of South Asia is seen as a hindrance to the success of other countries. Lately, India has been giving a notable priority to the sports sector and its results can be clearly seen in the fields. The upcoming SAFF Women’s Championship is likely to be no different.

A win against India is considered a great success for other South Asian nations. Hence, the Nepal women’s football team are also preparing with an objective to defeat India, but they do not have any special plan.

The hosts’ preparations

Coach Kumar Thapa Thapa says he has seen in his girls the determination to compensate for the losses since 2010.
Coach Kumar Thapa Thapa says he has seen in his girls the determination to compensate for the losses since 2010. Image: Bikash Shrestha

After a month, the sixth edition of the SAFF Women’s Championship is taking place in Kathmandu. For the second time, Kumar Thapa has been appointed the coach for the Nepali women’s football team for the event.

In the 2014 edition of the SAFF Women’s Championship, the Nepali women’s football team coached by Thapa lost to India in the semifinal. India have defeated Nepal in four finals of the regional event since its first edition in 2010.  

Thapa says he wants his team to defeat India although he does not have any special plan. “We are not expecting any magic. There is no magical power to defeat India,” Thapa says, “However, the experience of players, their hard work and playing on the home ground are some of the advantages that might help us in defeating India.” 

It has been two weeks since Nepal have started training for the SAFF Women’s Championship. The team have also been trained for one and half months beforehand, concentrating on the Asian Games. This time, hence, coach Thapa is optimistic about the team.  

“The players who debuted in 2013 are also in the team. They are well experienced. They have a different approach and use different styles while playing the sports,” says Thapa. “Moreover, the players also have the pain of losing to India every time. Such an ego is also a drive to win, which might also create changes in the upcoming championship.” 

Losing to the same team several times can even affect the psychology of the players. Thapa says he has been working on helping them defeat this thought. “We are planning to call a psychologist to provide a class for the players,” says Thapa. 

The confident coach

Kumar Thapa, coach of Nepali women's football team
Kumar Thapa, coach of Nepali women’s football team Image: Bikash Shrestha

This is the second chance for Thapa to prove himself, who played in the Nepali national team as a midfielder for five years. The AFC A coaching licence holder says, “I have been working systematically to bring good results.”

Thapa says he has seen in his girls the determination to compensate for the losses since 2010.

In April, the Nepali women’s team played their last league game. After two months of the league, their training for the Asian Games began. In the first phase, 40 players were called for training. Their training halted after the postponement of the Asian Games. 

Currently, 35 players are in training for the SAFF Women’s Championship taking place from September 6 to 19. The final squad will be made from among these 35 players.  

Since the players immediately started training after the league for Asian Games, they are in good form, says Thapa. 

Yet, the standard of match relies on the investment made in it. Of late, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India have made remarkable investments in women’s football teams.  

“Alongside India, all other countries are equally strong competitors for us,” Thapa says hinting at Nepal’s poor preparation for the SAFF Women’s Championship. Yet, he maintains, “Prior to the match, we cannot tell about anyone’s weakness or strength.” 

Weighing the victory

Nepali women's football team during practice session
Nepali women’s football team during practice session Image: Bikash Shrestha

Group A of SAFF Women’s Championship 2022 includes India, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan while in group B are Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. 

Comparatively, the Nepali team are seen to be in the easy group as they will directly enter into the semifinal with just one win.

But, there are many factors to consider. The home ground is the strongest factor for Nepal. A motivating Thapa says this SAFF Women’s Championship is the best time for players to prove themselves and make Nepali spectators happy and proud. “We will create an identity and make people proud by winning the championship.”

Yet, with just six weeks of training, they are going to the big event.

Hence, the win over the South Asian giant (India) is a challenging goal for Nepal. The structure of domestic football and a lack of investment in women’s football are blocking Nepal from progress, says Thapa. 

“There is no regular age-group competition in Nepal. In addition, the national league is also short and irregular. The production of new players is also not happening in a constant way,” says Thapa.  

As a result, it is still hard even to find 40 fine women footballers as seen during the recent selection for the SAFF Women’s Championship.

The status of Nepali women footballers would go into crisis if there was no departmental team, he adds. 

Usually, players are selected only when the tournaments approach. Thapa says it is a mistake to select the players on short notice. The players coming from different age groups could make the national team stronger, but in Nepal, the case is different because the country does not hold any tournaments according to the age group.

Hence, in this situation, it seems Nepal could only depend on the magic to win the SAFF Women’s Championship title for now.

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Dahal is a sports journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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