Bal Gopal Maharjan has face that is hard to read, even for keen face readers. For he looks a toughened cookie, with gritty looks and hardly any trace of emotion showing on face. Yet, he was visibly emotional when he said, “I want to apologize to all Nepali football fans…”
The occasion was SAFF U-16 Championship, and the moment was conclusion of the last match. Nepal had finished runners-up, beaten by India (yet again) in the title match. It was an emotional moment, for Indian lads had not drubbed the home team. The players from home were not humiliated. They edged past Nepali Colts by a small margin of 1 goal, a solitary goal.
A lot of us said, ‘India stunned Nepal’. Yes, the home media (or any other media) gets as much liberty in sports, of taking sides. Yes, Nepali boys might have displayed good game, during the final and before, but they failed to score. Yes, Nepal team might have conceded only one goal. Yet that one goal is all that matters, between a win and a loss.
And hence, saying that India stunned Nepal would be misrepresentation of facts. If you look carefully at history, you would find out Nepal clinching the title would be termed ‘stunning’. In fact, a careful look at history would tell you, Team Nepal has something sort of ‘jinx’, playing against India. The scorecards don’t make it a happy reading, if you are a Nepal football fan.
Nepal has faced India a total of 12 times (we’re not talking about age-group football here), since taking to the field against them for the first time in 1985 (and losing with a score of 0-2). Only twice has Nepal team been able to raise their hands in post-match celebration, among all of them. And the circumstances related to those matches are even more interesting.
In the first of the win, in Bangladesh SAF Games 1993, the final was a deadlock (2-2) after regulation time. Nepal won the match 4-3 in tie-breaker. So, in record books the result would be kept as a draw. During the entire tournament, Nepali team played with only 12 players. Coach of the present U-16 team, Bal Gopal Maharjan was a member of that squad, though he did not get to play the match.
The second win for Nepal also came in Bangladesh. In the second win, AFC Challenge Cup 2006, Nepal managed drubbing Indian team 3-0. And here was a catch; India had sent U-23 team to the championship. Hence that would not go in official records. Apart from these two instances, the ‘Nepal Vs India’ is a sorry story. All losses.
This needs a careful analysis.
Before the final, Coach Bal Gopal Maharjan had promised to keep the trophy at home. Indian Coach Gautam Ghosh had said, “Win or loss is immaterial to us. We are here to teach our players. We are building our players.”
Difference in thoughts! We kept on harping about this being the opportunity to beat India for title after two decades, forgetting Nepal won AFC U-14 Festival of football beating India 3-0. That team had Sandeep Rai and Nirajan Khadka.
Probably we expected much more than what we should have, even before the tournament started. Somewhere during that, the team management focused too much on results and the process. The players, no doubt talented (as their performance showed), were hardly trained psychologically for the big game. Apart from a few corporate honchos, who have tried to motivate players, the football governing body hasn’t had much of a plan regarding this. In modern day sports, there’s hardly much difference in talent between players and teams. The difference in mental make-up, their resilience and attitude makes all the difference between win and a loss. The good part is, the young team has shown promise.
With SAFF Championship knocking at the door, it is up to us, whether we keep celebrating the ‘potential’ that’s been shown, or turn it into ‘practice’ and ‘performance’.
PS: The write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 3rd August, 2013