Nepali Times
All the President’s men


As the temperatures rise, the football scene in Kathmandu is also heating up again with the first President Cup international tournament to be held here next month.

The 10-day event, which begins on 4 May, will see Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan pitting their league champions against each other. Organised by the Asian Football Confederation, the President Cup will be an annual event hosted in various member countries.

"To have the first match hosted in Nepal is a very good opportunity for us," says Ganesh Thapa, chairman of the AFC President Cup organising committee. There are only eight countries participating this year because the criteria says league champions of each country can participate. Not all interested countries had their league matches, Thapa explains.

Nepal had its league tournament in June last year when a draw between Mahendra Police Club and Patan's Three Star Club decided the latter as the winner on overall points. "It was a crucial match," says Upendra Man Singh, captain and goalkeeper of the Three Star team, "but we knew that a draw would qualify us for the President Cup. Now, the responsibility of playing for the country in an international match is weighing on our shoulders. We are taking things very seriously and concentrating on our training."

The Three Star team has played with some of the other teams before but as Upendra says, "it won't do to underestimate your opponent. We know there won't be much difference because we are all in the C category."

The teams have been divided into three categories according to their financial and playing standards. C is where the teams from developing countries have been grouped. "There's a good chance we might win," says Lalit Krishna Shrestha, chairman of Three Star Club, "we have had a lot of support from our community. People have raised funds for us to buy uniforms and further our training."

The coach of the Three Star team is Dhruba KC but other senior coaches of Nepal such as Shyam Thapa and Bhim Thapa are also helping the boys overcome their weaknesses and focus on their strengths. The league tournament and initial training left some players injured. "We fear that the training might not be adequate for some of the players because they missed out on a lot," says captain Singh.

Dasrath Stadium is seeing a major facelift to prepare for the matches. "We are doing all we can and the government has been very supportive," says Narendra Shrestha, vice-chairman of All Nepal Football Association. "The President Cup is important to us not just because it is an international event but also because it could direct the future of football in Nepal and sports in general."

As the opening date nears, the organisers are running over some last minute details to clear out hassles. "Security will be very tight, AFC officials themselves came over to check and they have approved of our system," says Shrestha.

Singh says this is a great opportunity for his team to build experience, adding: "But we have our eyes on the prize because it could change the face of football in Nepal and the region." The President Cup winner gets $50,000 and the runner-up gets $25,000. Each participating team takes home $ 15,000.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)