KATHMANDU, March 2: "We are here to gain experience and don´t have great expectations from the tournament," Koo Luam Khen, the coach of Northern Mariana Island (NMI) said during the pre-match conference on Friday, a day before his side starts its AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers campaign against Nepal.
The Malaysian coach for NMI, however, said his side will look forward to good results in every match. The island national is a mystery team for all the opponents and ´comparatively a weaker team´ in Group D of the qualifiers.
For Nepal the match against NMA, which is yet to get full membership of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), will be an opportunity to make its critics eat crow. The team has been facing criticisms for its inconsistent performance and poor striking line-up.
Nepal´s biggest margin victory was the 5-0 win against East Timor during the World Cup Qualifiers in July 2011. Since, Nepal has played 17 matches, scoring six and conceding 35 goals. Nepal has not won any of its last 12 matches.
The Nepali team´s last victory was the 1-0 win against Bangladesh during the group stage of 2011 SAFF Championship. In its last two international friendlies played against Pakistan recently at home, Nepal lost both matches with identical scores of 1-0.
In the last eight matches played at the Dasharath Stadium, Nepal has scored only two goals, which clearly shows Nepali strikers´ poor scoring ability.
"We are prepared and want to do well in the tournament. Our target is to create more scoring chances. There has been progress in the striking line-up as well," said Nepal´s coach Jack Stefanowski, adding that he had very little information about NMA. Nepal is likely to come up in a 4-3-3 formation.
"We have learnt a lesson from the Pakistan friendlies and will not repeat the mistake," Nepal´s skipper Sagar Thapa said.
However, the match against the island nation, which is yet to get FIFA rankings, will be an opportunity for its team to revamp its image. "We are an amateur team competing in the event for the first time and all the other three teams in the group will have an advantage," Khen said.
NMI has not achieved victory in any international match played since 1998. The last match NMA played was against Guam in November, 2012, which ended in a humiliating 8-0 defeat. Guam holds 197th position in FIFA rankings. In July 2012, NMI was defeated 5-1 by Macau. In the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers, Nepal had defeated Macau 6-1. But it was about a decade earlier. However, Nepal holds superior ranking (174th) than the 197th placed Macau and 183rd placed Guam.
NMI´s goalkeeper-cum-technical director Johann Noetzelis said that his side will ´play hardest´ against Nepal. "Any football team expects to play well and achieve results. But we know none of the teams of the group and it is the biggest tournament for us so far," Noetzelis said.
Coach speak (Box) Lodewijik Darius De Kruif (Bangladesh)
We started the training 10 days ago and finalized the 23-member squad. The team has worked very hard during the training. The most important thing for a team is the determination to succeed and Bangladesh players have this quality.
We don´t know anything about Northern Mariana Island (NMI).
Nepal will have advantage of home ground. Both Nepal and Bangladesh are fighting for a place in the final. I am very happy with the draw (to be drawn with Nepal). Our intention will be to collect three points in all matches.
Hopefully we will get a chance to watch Nepal´s performance on Saturday. (Nepal will play the second match against NMI after Bangladesh locks horns with Palestine.)
Palestine achieved impressive 4-2 win over India in a recent friendly and has slight advantage over the other teams.
Jamal Mahmoud (Palestine)
We are here to win and qualify as the first team of the group. I think Nepal is lucky for us as we finished fourth during the finals of the same event held in Kathmandu in 2012.
We don´t know anything about Bangladesh and it will be our first encounter on Saturday. We played two friendlies as preparation for the qualifiers. We lost 2-1 against Kuwait in the first and beat India 4-2 in the second match.
We have arrived here with the same team that played against India. About half a dozen of our players play profession football in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
All the teams are of same level and pose a threat to us.
Koom Luam Khen (Northern Mariana Island)
We don´t expect much from the tournament. We are here to gain experience. All three opponents have advantage over us as we have never seen them before. We have to aim for results.
Jack Stefanowski (Nepal)
We are prepared for the tournament and want to do very well. We are positive about qualifying for the next round. Bangladesh is highly motivated after the arrival of foreign coach. Palestine has the best rankings in the group and is the main contender.