| Nepal boys join in the party as Niranjan Khadka (jersey No. 11) celebrates his second goal in style at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Afghanistan lost their AFC Under-17 championship Group VI qualifier to Nepal by a couple of goals on Wednesday. A perfectly acceptable result that for the rookies from a war-ravaged state seeking to make its presence felt after 23 long years.
The red shirts could, in fact, have left the Salt Lake Stadium turf heads held higher, with some luck. They called the shots in the opening half-hour, created three scoring opportunities and hit the woodwork once.
In the second half, the Afghan boys soaked in sustained Nepalese pressure before succumbing in the final nine minutes. Custodian Emal Gariwal was responsible for the first goal, letting slip an innocuous Niranjan Khadka shot through his legs.
Khadka got the second one too, within a couple of minutes, this time fooling Gariwal and Zahit Hassani on a quick turn after receiving a pass from Gyanendra Ale. With just one team advancing to the knockout stage in Japan, Nepal have to wait for Friday’s India versus Afghanistan result to know their fate. A three-goal victory will help the hosts pip Nepal. If India tame the Afghans by a two-goal margin, the qualifiers will be decided by the toss of a coin.
The Afghans used their superior height and build to good advantage. They showed some nice touches too, led ably by Akmal Hussaini. He created the game’s first chance, a smart 20-yard sortie being tipped over the bar by Sanjeev Shrestha. The Nepal goalie got busy again, collecting a close-range shot from Ali Jawad Rezaki on the second attempt. Shrestha got lucky a little later, as Mohammad Atal Yasin stroked his push wide from hand-shaking distance. Just past the half-hour mark, Hassani’s swerving free-kick from about 25 yards out thudded into the crosspiece.
Nepal warmed up to the challenge, with Gyanendra playing a stellar role on the wings. Twice in the first half, he dodged his way past a clutch of defenders to set up Santosh Shahukhala, but the striker messed up badly.
The Afghan boys got visibly slower with the passage of time. Khadka, Shishir Adhikari and Gyanendra helped Nepal control the midfield after change of ends but failed to penetrate the rival defence. “The result is not too important for us, what’s more important is that Afghanistan is getting a chance to compete at the international stage,” said Afghan coach Asghar Ali.
Nepal: Sanjeev Shrestha, Santosh Gurung, Bikash Chhetri, Sandeep Rai, Durga Lawat (Krishna Lama, 38), K.C. Rojit (Jeevan Sinkemana, 54), Niranjan Khadka, Gyanendra Ale, Suraj Kharabuja (Dipesh Thapa Magar, 44), Shishir Adhikari, Santosh Shahukhala.
Afghanistan: Emal Gariwal, Suhrab Niazi, Farid Ahmadi, Ali Ahmadi, Zahit Hassani, Zabihullah Hashami (Hashmatullah, 84), Shikib Faizi, Akmal Hussaini, Mohammad Atal Yasin, Ali Noori (Mohammad Wais, 73), Ali Jawad Rezaki (Feroz Ahmed Azizi, 60).
Referee: Vladislav Tseytlin (Uzbekistan).