Nepal faces heightened expectations on home turf as they prepare to host Yemen in the second leg of the joint qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2027 AFC Asian Cup at Kathmandu’s Dasharath Stadium on Tuesday.
Following a challenging start to the qualifiers, where Coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese’s Gorkhalis suffered a 4-0 defeat against the formidable United Arab Emirates in Dubai last week, the team is under significant pressure to rebound and remain in contention for the third round and a spot in the Asian Cup.
The opening match saw Nepal outplayed in every aspect by the UAE, particularly in the first half, where the Arab nation secured a decisive lead with four goals. Despite the setback, Captain and Goalkeeper Kiran Kumar Limbu express optimism and determination for the upcoming clash against Yemen.
Limbu stated in a pre-match conference, “We have forgotten the defeat against the UAE. Our players are mentally strong and ready to take on Yemen. We are under pressure to win, and the Yemen clash is very important if we are to progress further.”
Nepal’s second-half performance in the UAE match showcased resilience and tenacious defending, preventing further damage from Portuguese coach Paulo Bento’s team. However, the absence of key players, such as Ananta Tamang and the ruled-out Laken Limbu, poses a challenge for Coach Annese in team selection.
While Tamang has recovered from his knee injury, doubts linger over his availability for the Yemen game. Annese, still experimenting with a relatively inexperienced squad, introduced new faces like Chhiring Lama, Anjan Rai, and Yogesh Gurung in the previous match. The sidelining of Laken Limbu could pave the way for Arik Bista and Ayush Ghalan to return to the starting XI against Yemen.
Having faced Yemen four times in the past, with three losses and one draw, Nepal is aware of the challenges posed by their opponents. The last encounter in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualification saw Nepal draw 0-0 in the first leg before losing 2-1 in the second leg.
Despite the formidable task of overcoming Yemen, Coach Annese remains optimistic about securing three points, acknowledging and rectifying the mistakes made in the previous match against the UAE. Yemen, coming off a 2-0 loss to Bahrain, is also determined to bounce back, with Coach Miroslav Soukup emphasizing that Nepal is a strong opponent.
With the UAE leading Group H and Bahrain closely following, Nepal aims to climb the standings and secure a place in the third round of World Cup qualifiers and an automatic berth in the AFC Asian Cup. The joint qualifiers feature 36 teams divided into nine groups, playing on a home-and-away basis to determine the group winners and runners-up advancing to the next stage.