After playing a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the World Cup 2026 preliminary qualifiers, Nepal is playing the second leg against Laos at its home ground on Tuesday. The future of Nepali football is connected with the result of this game. A win or a loss will indicate where Nepali football will go.
Lately, Nepali football team is facing a crisis due to the fact that the experienced players of the national team have migrated abroad, the league which is considered as the backbone of the domestic football is not regular and even the age group competitions are not regular. Despite that, Nepal has been playing international competitions/games (World Cup/Asian Cup Qualifiers/Saaf Championship/Friendly Games).
Nepal, who played the SAFF Championship last June, is now playing the preliminary stage of the joint qualification for the FIFA World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup.
In 2026, America, Canada and Mexico are jointly hosting the World Cup. For that, Nepal is also playing the preliminary stage of the selection of the Asia region.
Asia’s top 26 teams are playing in the initial stage, including 20 teams except Northern Mariana Islands, after playing two legs on a home and away basis, the winning 10 teams will enter the second stage.
At that stage, Nepal had a rival in Laos. Nepal played the first leg at home on Thursday. Nepal managed to make a comeback and equalize the match when they were behind by one goal. Anjan Bisht scored a record 13th goal for Nepal and placed himself in the list along with Hari Khadka and Nirajan Rayamaji. But both Anjan and the team were not satisfied with the victory of the game.
Now the Nepali team is in Laos and tomorrow they will play the second leg match against Laos at the same ground. The winning team will advance to the second round of the Asia Qualifiers.
Weaknesses and areas to improve in the first game
In the first leg held last Thursday at Dasharath Stadium in Tripureshwar, the Nepali team received more than 10,000 domestic support. But when they conceded a goal in the beginning, they had to struggle to equalize. Due to the youth and new players in the team, the performance of the current Nepali team is not as expected.
Italian coach Vincenzo Alberto Enes responded by showing more than talking before the first game. But the team could not perform as per his expectations. Football coach Anant Thapa says about the first match, “We were not able to perform according to the calculation we had prepared, we failed in passing”. Laos played a quick pass better than us, their interceptions were also better than ours.
According to him, even in the midfield, Nepal could not hold the ball. “Laken (Limbu) and Abhas (Lamichhane) could not hold the ball the way they should in the midfield,” he said, “Ayush Ghalan’s performance was not as expected and had to be changed in the second half.” Overall, in the first half, Nepal could not dominate in the way it should have. And Laos played well.
After the match, the national team’s head coach Enes also said that he was not happy with the performance of the first match and said that the midfield should be improved in the next match.
Coach Thapa says that Nepal should improve especially in passing and positioning when they play against Laos on their home ground on Tuesday. “If we want to beat Laos, we have to improve our passing and position,” he said, “we have to reduce missed passes, after regaining the ball, we have to play short passes while holding on to our feet.”
In the forwards, Manish Dangi did not look effective at number 10. Also, Thapa argues that Ayush Ghalan should be played on the left side and Anjan Bista should be played on the right side.
The Nepali team went to Laos the day after playing the first leg for the important match. Enes, the head coach of the Nepali team, who practiced there for four days, said that Tuesday’s game is important for Nepal and for himself.
Vincenzo Alberto Enes.
“We have prepared well. This game is very important for Nepal and also for me,” Enes said in the pre-match on Monday, “We have to win this game to move forward and we will play attacking football.”
Captain Kiran Kumar Limbu said, “We will play beautiful football and the goal is to win and move on.”
Nepali football team and Important games and opportunities
If Nepal wins Tuesday’s match, it will continue its journey to the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers, which will keep the possibility of reaching the third stage. More importantly, the matches in the second phase will be an opportunity for exposure for Nepali footballers.
A total of 36 teams will compete in the second stage, in which the participating teams will be divided into 9 groups. Each group will have four teams and four teams will play home and away matches against each other. That is, one team will play 6 games.
The winner of the match between Nepal and Laos will be placed in Group H in the second round. The schedule of the second round has already been published. UAE and Bahrain are in Group H. Similarly, a team from Yemen and Sri Lanka will also be in Group H. If Sri Lanka, who lost 3-0 in the first leg, does not make a great comeback, Yemen will become the third team.
The second phase of the games will start from November and will continue till June 2024. If they reach the second stage, Nepali football will be allowed to play international football for the next 8 months. There will also be friendly games.
Thapa says that this exposure is connected with the future of Nepali football when a team with a new structure is being formed, “We get to play with teams like UAE and Bahrain, it gives match exposure for young new players.”
If the group winners or runners-up from the second stage matches become the third of the World Cup qualifiers