Barely North Korea hung on and lived up to their top seed billing to emerge victorious at the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu Monday. They were given a run for their money and narrowly avoided a stunning upset by the surprise finalist Turkmenistan before rallying from behind to earn a hard fought victory.
The Koreans success was never in doubt from the outset. Having consistently played in top notch tournaments, including the World Cup, over the years, obviously, they carried vast experiences and were the overwhelming favorites.
Although they maintained a perfect score by winning every match, however, they looked far from convincing, undoubtedly. They lacked the velvetiness and clinical precision in their performance that characterized the Koreans.
They need to turn around their game significantly to the highest level to make a big impact in the final round of the competition in Australia in 2015. They have done it in the past and I don’t see why they cannot do it again.
The side is deep in talent, and they have the commitment and plenty of time to prepare themselves for the ultimate prize.
On the other hand, it was a tale of so close yet so far for Turkmenistan. They were on the cusp of corking champagne bottles to celebrate in what would have been their biggest ever international success, but a costly spot kick miss in the dying minutes of the game ruined their night.
In a dramatic change of fortune, having survived a fall from the cliff by a hair’s breadth, the Koreans slot home the game- winning goal by successfully converting their penalty kick.
Nevertheless, Turkmenistan played exceptionally well to finish second in the championship. They are slowly but steadily making a comeback to international football. The players can hold their heads high in defeat.
Philippines and Palestine were by far the two most improved teams in the competition. They have progressed by leaps and bounds, and they proved themselves capable of competing at this level of the game.
In the battle for the third place between the two, Philippines had the last laugh. For the Islanders the success comes at a time when they are making serious efforts to make their presence felt in world football.
Their impressive win over Tajikistan and India confirms the fact that they are no more Lilliputians of football, at least in Asia for now. Against the formidable Koreans they played well to contain them, and missed a super chance to reach the final.
In the semi-final, despite a 1-0 lead they squandered the match to Turkmenistan who made a tremendous comeback. By and large, they had a great tournament.
Palestine’s strong performance underscores their steady climb to top flight football despite the politically fragile situation back home. They are the team of the future.
As it turned out, the tournament was a big setback for Tajikistan. The results point to the fact that they played poorly.
Another major championship ends in disappointment for South Asian teams. Of the three, Maldives performed slightly better by prevailing over Nepal.
It was a total disaster for India and Nepal which failed to score a single goal.
The mediocrity shown by the teams does not augur well for the future of South Asian football that struggles to keep pace with the rest of the world.
To be fair the AFC Challenge Cup was incident free and successfully organized by the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA). The other highlight was FIFA boss Seep Blatter who inaugurated the championship.
I feel very sorry for home fans that had to live with their team’s agonizing and insipid performances. Nonetheless, they were sporting and supportive of the tournament by making their presence in a big manner all the way to the end.
Going by the number of international tournaments hosted by Ganesh Thapa led ANFA in recent years; I have to conclude that more than committing to taking Nepali football seriously in terms of development they are more into organizing tournament business.
After all, we live in perpetual hope. We can always look forward to a new beginning and hope things to improve from the past year. Having said that, I have lost my faith in ANFA and I seriously doubt anything will change.
By Sushil Thapa, Fairfax, VA
|< Prev||Next >|