The CNMI Men’s National Team bowed to its ranked foe and host Nepal, 0-6, in the opening of the Asian Football Confederation 2014 Challenge Cup Qualifiers last Saturday night at the Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu.
The Blue Ayuyus made defensive lapses in their AFC debut, allowing the host to dominate the match in front of more than 15,000 fans.
Striker Bharat Kawas scored a hat-trick in the lopsided win, while Taju Tamang, Sandip Rai, and Santosh Sahukhala added one each for Nepal. The CNMI had three chances of scoring, but could not convert against 174-ranked Nepal.
The Gorkhalis could have scored more against the Blue Ayuyus if not for the gallant stand of goalkeeper Johann Noetzel, who had 10 saves alone in the second half and at least five in the first.
Noetzel’s efforts were lauded by CNMI supporters who went to Shirley’s Coffee Shop in Garapan last late Saturday night to watch the Commonwealth’s striker’s first men’s game in the AFC. The Blue Ayuyus goalkeeper’s defensive recovery midway in the second half drew the laud cheers from the CNMI supporters, as he stepped in to break a scramble for the ball inside the box and picked up the leather. Noetzel dove, rolled, and leapt for several saves in both the second and first halves.
Noetzel had to rush for numerous saves, as Nepal was very aggressive attacking from the CNMI’s weak defensive spots—the right and left wings.
According to Nepal’s football website, the host’s first attempt for a goal started when Jagjeet Shrestha crossed from the left flank and Sahukhala blocked CNMI defenders, leaving Kawas open for the header and giving Gorkhalis the 1-0 lead in the third minute.
After an early defensive miscue, the CNMI played tough defense for more than 20 minutes before Nepal scored another header (28th minute) from Sahukhala also off Shrestha’ cross from the left wing. The host then made it a 3-0 advantage four minutes before the first half ended when Kawas converted a goal off a right cross pass from Rabin Shrestha.
Kwas completed a hat-trick in the second half when he received another right cross inside the box and CNMI defenders failed to kick the ball out. Nepal’s two other goals in the second half came off a penalty kick and a long shot. Lucas Knecht was caught for a foul after colliding against Jagjeet Shrestha and Tamang took the penalty shot with the ball rolling to the left corner and Noetzel gliding to his right. Rai made the long shot a few feet away from the penalty box and Noetzel struggled for a save, using his right leg, but the ball rolled in.
While Nepal dominated possession in the first half, the CNMI had only one attempt for a goal and fell short when Joe Miller’s hit inside the center box was too slow to roll and was picked up by the host’s goalie.
Miller then had two more chances of putting the CNMI in the scoreboard in the second half but again failed to cash in on these opportunities. The first one came early in the second half when Yuki Adachi was pushed and fouled by a Nepal defender from the left wing. Miller went for the free kick, but the ball bounced off Nepal and CNMI players and the Commonwealth failed to make a follow-up. The second free kick came with less than 20 minutes left in the second half when Peter Loken was fouled, however Miller’s booming shot was tapped out by Nepal’s goalie.
The CNMI had limited chances on offense, as its players were mostly camping out on Nepal’s court for defense and every time Noetzel went for a long kick, only one and sometimes no Blue Ayuyus was there to receive the leather and anchor an attack.
Despite the loss, Luam Khen Koo still considered the game against Nepal a good result.
“We are in a learning process. It is good that our young players are gaining experience.
We are playing in our first big tournament and I think this is still a good result for us. We will try our best to play good matches,” said Koo, who used 13 players in the opener.
Joining Noetzel, Miller, Knecht Adachi, and Loken on the CNMI’s starting roster against Nepal were Bo Barry, Dae Won Jeon, Nick Swaim, Dan Westphal, Steve McKagan, and Trey Dunn, while Jehn Joyner and Raphael Zapanta came off the bench.
Meanwhile, the CNMI will take on the tough Palestine today at 2:05pm (about 6pm Saipan time). Palestine edged Bangladesh last Saturday, 1-0.