HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU: Palestine earned the AFC Challenge Cup Finals berth for the second successive time after playing a goalless draw with Nepal here at the Dasharath Stadium today.
Nepal needed at least three-goal margin victory and the players showed intent when the match kicked off after the delay of half-an-hour because of flood light failures just before the whistle. Both the team players, who went back to their dressing rooms because of the technical glitch for the third time, returned to the pitch after 30 minutes when the problem was solved finally.
Following the results, Palestine topped the group with seven points, while Bangladesh, who earlier defeated Northern Mariana Islands 4-0, finished second with six points to keep their hopes of qualifying alive as the best runner-up. Nepal, who faced humiliating 2-0 loss at the hands of Bangladesh on Monday, finished with four points from three matches, whereas Northern Mariana Islands conceded 19 goals without scoring. The top teams from five pools will be joined by two best runners-up and hosts Maldives in Finals next year. Nepal had qualified for the 2012 Finals as the runners-up to Palestine from the Qualifiers, also held in Kathmandu.
After surviving an early chance in the 13th minute when goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong wrongly passed the ball to the unmarked Palestine player just outside the box, Nepal made a brilliant effort four minutes later. Fed by Bharat Khawas, who beat as many as two players before firing a cross into the area, Jumanu Rai attempted a rousing header but Palestine goalkeeper Tawfiq AY Abuhammad got his hands to the ball at the top corner of the post to punch it out.
Nepal were lucky in the 27th minute when Palestine’s Husam RS Wadi hit the woodwork following a corner kick from Husam IA Abusala. At the other end, Nepal skipper Sagar Thapa’s powerful shot deflected back to play, while Palestine goalie Abuhammad brilliantly punched out Jagjit Shrestha’s long-range strike in the 38th minute.
Nepal put pressure on Palestine in the second period as well but failed to find the back of the nets, especially because of the lack of supplies to the forward line from the midfield. Nepal created a real chance three minutes into the second half but it was again Palestine custodian Abuhammad who became the hurdle. Following a free kick from Jagjit, Jumanu header towards the goal from the close range but Abuhammad made a one-handed save.
Palestine seemed least bothered to attack and instead wasted the most of the time playing in the mid and shooting from distance. In a rare second-half chance created by Palestine, Alaa AI Atiya headed directly at the hands of Nepal goalie Kiran in the 66th minute.
Nepal coach Jack Stefanowski described the players’ performance as improved one. “We played well compared to Bangladesh. Our strategy was to go and try to score as many goals as we could, but that did not happen despite creating some clear chances,” he said. Asked about the experience of his first tournament with the Nepal, Stefanowski said the team showed improvement in team unity. “It was great experience and I love to coach this team and represent Nepal,” he added. “We need to continue to improve and there is no limit what this team can do in future,” he said.
Palestine coach Jamal Mahmoud said he was satisfied with his team’s performance. “We are happy that we qualified for the Finals despite the fact that we could not bring our key players,” he said.
“We had seven players from our U-19 team and they played pretty well,” added Mahmoud, who was furious at the spectators. “This is not fair as some of the spectators threw objects at our players,” he said, referring to the incident when one of his players was hit with an object thrown from the parapet before he could take a corner kick.
Bonus for team
KATHMANDU: The All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) announced a bonus of Rs 50,000 each to the 26-member squad that finished third in the AFC Challenge Cup Group D Qualifiers here on Wednesday. According to CEO of ANFA Indra Man Tuladhar, the football governing body decided to reward the 23 players, two coaches and physio for the team’s spirited performance against Palestine. The third meeting between the two teams ended in a goalless draw. They had also played 0-0 draw in their first encounter in 2009 and Nepal had lost 2-0 in their second match against Palestine in 2012.