Tuesday 20 August 2019, 00:41

Swedish-inspired Nepal reach for new heights

  • Nepal will meet Kuwait in their upcoming Qatar 2022 qualifier

  • A rare opportunity for Nepal to compete in Asia’s Round 2

  • South Asians aim to spring a surprise under Swedish coach Johan Kalin

With eight of the world's ten tallest mountains located across their country, the Nepalese are renowned for their ability to scale great heights. Now though, in football, Nepal will have to figuratively do likewise during AFC’s Round 2 qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™.

The Nepalese travel to Kuwait on 5 September to challenge the hosts and 1980 AFC Asian Cup champions in their opening qualifier. The West Asians represent a daunting task for Nepal. The first meeting between the two nations saw Kuwait triumph 5-0 in a 2000 AFC Asian Cup qualifier but nearly two decades on, Nepal, now coached by Swede Johan Kalin, showed what progress they have made when the pair re-united in a couple of friendlies in March.

What had been anticipated as one-sided matches turned out to be closely contested, with the strongly-favoured Kuwait held to a goalless draw on home soil in the first match, before managing a solitary-goal win.

"I think we played two good games against Kuwait," the 41-year-old Kalin told FIFA.com. "These were my first matches in charge and I was not sure what I could expect from the team. The players followed the game plan very well and they played well. We caused the Kuwaitis headaches although we were not able to attack much."

With the two teams crossing paths in the World Cup qualifying opener, Kalin is all too aware that their previous showings against the Kuwaitis may ring a warning bell for the rivals this time around.

"Playing against them [Kuwait] in friendlies can be good and bad,” he said. “The good thing is that we know the opponents and they know us. The bad thing is that we may not be able to catch them by surprise this time."

The draw for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2

Tough assignments

Even if the opening game goes their way, Nepal's chances of progressing from a group which also features Australia, Jordan and Chinese Taipei are limited. For Kalin, the World Cup qualifiers provide Nepal with a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with Asia's best.

"We are the clear underdogs in this group,” he said. “Australia and Jordan are strong teams. We respect all the rivals but we are not afraid of them. We showed that we are capable of causing them problems when we played against Kuwait and Chinese Taipei in friendlies. These are tough opponents and what I can promise is that we will do our best in each game."

Nepal will look to their overseas-based stars as they aim to open with a bang. Indonesia-based Rohit Chand will shore up the defence while Maldives-based young striker Bimal Magar will shoulder the goalscoring responsibility.

"Chand is doing very well with Persija, while Bimal is clearly a good player and I look forward to be able to work more with him. Overall we have many young players who are interesting.

"Now the team are more solid in defence and the organisation is better. Our players are more aware about their positional play. We are looking forward to the [qualifying] matches and hopefully we will be able to deliver a good performance in every game.”

A former coach in Sweden's lower divisions, Kalin cast his sights towards South Asia when he assumed the reins at Machhindra FC for the 2013/14 season. He took his side to second in the local league and his success didn't go unnoticed as the Nepal FA came calling.

“I have always been fascinated by the game in developing football regions like South Asia. I have been following their game for some years and now I have the chance to test myself, my leadership and coaching ability in a new culture.”