Kathmandu: Nepal is playing against Bangladesh in its final group match of the SAFF Championship on Wednesday, aiming at creating history by reaching the final of the tournament.
Nepal, which has never reached the final of the tournament, can create history in the 13th edition of the regional football competition with a victory or a draw against Bangladesh.
Nepal have reached the semi-finals of the tournament in four occasions–1995, 2011, 2013, 2018–but have failed to reach the final of the tournament that is held every two years.
Nepal, which won the first two games in the tournament before losing to India, currently sits in the second position with six points in the points tally. Although both Nepal and the Maldives have six points from two games, the latter is on the top of the table based on goal difference.
So far, Nepal and Bangladesh have met 22 times, with Nepal winning seven games, losing 13 games, and drawing on two occasions. The last time the two sides met was in March in the final of the Three Nations Cup in Kathmandu. Nepal defeated Bangladesh 2-1 to clinch the title of the cup.
Although Bangladesh enjoy a better head-to-head record against Nepal, the latter, in the the recent years, have dominated the game against the Bengal Tigers. In the last five meetings, Nepal have beat Bangladesh twice, lost once, and played draw on one occasion.
Bangladesh have not defeated Nepal in SAFF Championship since 2005. In 2005, Bangladesh knocked Nepal out of the group stage beating them 2-0. Since then, they are yet to taste a victory against the Gorkhalis in SAFF Championship, losing on three occasions–2011, 2013, 2018.
Abdullah Al Mutairi’s men had an excellent start to the tournament, clinching two victories over the defending champion the Maldives and Sri Lanka before tumbling to India.
The 1-0 win against the Maldives was Nepal’s first victory over the island nation in the history of the SAFF Championship.
Despite playing attacking football in the first two games, Nepal opted to play defensive against the strong Indian team. Although Nepali defenders were able to stop the Indian forward, the Blue Tigers capitalized on Nepal’s mistake and netted a goal in the 82nd minute of the game.
Likewise, Bangladesh are fourth in the points table with four points. The Bangladeshi team has won a game against Sri Lanka, lost against the Maldives, and played a draw against the strong Indian side.
Nepal looks the better side than Bangladesh in the FIFA rankings. The Gorkhalis are on the 171th spot, while Bangladesh are 186th in the FIFA ranking.
If Nepal manages to book a place in the final, they will either play seven-time SAFF champion India or the defending champion Maldives in the final, scheduled for Saturday.
Speaking at a press conference before the match, Nepal’s assistant coach Kiran Shrestha said the game against Bangladesh is a vital one as Nepal has to win or draw to book a place in the final.
“The team will play to get good results,” he said. “The strategy of Nepal is to attack in the game.”
When Shrestha was asked about the defensive mindset of Nepal against India, he refused to give any comments on the question. “Our head coach has already given a statement on this,” he said.
“The Bangladeshi team has got a new coach, and are playing with new tactics. The team is different from the last time when they played against Nepal. Bangladesh may surprise us in different ways,” he added.
Nepal’s head coach Abdullah Al Mutairi did not attend the press meet.
Likewise, Bangladeshi coach Oscar Bruzon said Nepal is under pressure in its final game of the league stage. “The only option for Bangladesh to reach the final is by winning the game. So we will attack,” he added.
Bangladesh have already reached the final of the tournament thrice and lifted the cup in 2003 by beating the Maldives.
In the other game today, the seven-time champion India is playing against the defending champion the Maldives. While a draw would be enough for the Maldives, India needs to win the game at any cost to book their place in the final.
The game between Nepal and Bangladesh will kick off at 4:45 pm.