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'We have already won' - Nepal readies for 'amazing' Socceroos experience


Nepal technical director Gary Phillips says the Asian country will be in full party-mode when the Socceroos land for their FIFA World Cup qualifier later this month.

Australia's crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier against Nepal on June 11 will be shown LIVE, FREE and in HD on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.

Australia and the Nepalese will lock horns on March 30 in Kathmandu as qualification for Qatar 2022 ramps up following a coronavirus-enforced break.

Australian Phillips, former NSL player and ex-Sydney Olympic coach, is the technical director of Nepal and was also recently appointed head coach of the nation’s women’s national team.

The Gorkhalis have not played at home for several years because of stadium issues, with home matches being played in neighbouring Bhutan.

Because of this, Phillips, who is based in the Nepalese capital, predicts an “amazing experience” for the fixture in the football-mad location.

The Socceroos and Nepal met in their last qualifier in Canberra in October 2019, where the green and gold finished 5-0 winners.

“Clearly Australia should have won by more in the first leg,” the 57-year-old told The World Game.

“Regardless of the outcome of ‘our’ home game, the men’s national team, for different reasons, has not played in front of our fans for over six years. That is sad in a country where football is the number one sport.

“Imagine that in any code in Australia – outrage. The occasion will be an amazing experience for everyone involved in the day. Football fans here are extraordinary.

“We hosted the South Asian games in 2019 for the Under-23s, we played in the final (against) Bhutan and Kathmandu came to a standstill. Huge screens on the streets broadcasting the game to those who could not get in, traffic just stopped and watched. Millions were watching on live TV at home.

“We as a developing football nation have already won, the impact will be next-level," he added.

Nepal are ranked 161st in the world by FIFA and are currently in fourth spot in Group B with a solitary win, over Chinese Taipei, from their five games. The Socceroos sit on top of the Group with four consecutive victories.

The qualifier will be staged at Dashrath Stadium, which was recently renovated in 2019.

“Conditions will be perfect at kick-off [with a temperature between] 18-23 degrees,” Phillips said.

“The pitch has endured a harsh winter but it’s warming up and we have prioritised the ground preparations. It’s not the San Siro, but it’s not Sans Souci."

The Gorkhalis will rely on a mostly domestic-based squad led by goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong, who plays in India for Punjab FC.

Only a handful of players ply their trade outside Nepal, in Mohammedan SC striker Abhishek Rijal and Persija Jakarta midfielder Rohit Chand.

Nepal will have a new head coach for the qualifier in former national team star Bal Gopal Maharjan, after Swede Johan Kalin left the role in December.

“Our previous Swedish coach resigned for COVID-19 reasons,” Phillips said.

“We have a new local coach, he won the gold medal in the South Asian games [in 1993]. He has earned his chance and he will have different ideas about the approach to the Australian game.”

According to reports, Nepal has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well with just 2,774 deaths in a country with a population of close to 30 million.

Phillips describes life as “abnormally normal” in the mountainous nation right now.

“The local theory here is, we don’t have COVID-19, we just have dust,” he said.

“Seriously, it’s certainly no different to the world right? There’s always some uneducated, irresponsible people oblivious or ignorant, the same as in many countries.

“The economy is being battered but people are trying to work through it with the necessary cautions. The Australian team will be well prepared and all precautions will be in place in line with the AFC protocols.

“I have been back here over a month. Life is abnormally normal and the nation is expecting the vaccination rollout soon. Everyone is optimist about life.”