As Nepal qualifies for the SAFF Women’s Championship 2022 semi-final [for the fifth consecutive time], Anita Basnet proves to be a key element of Nepal’s attacking force. She has come a long way from her debut in 2014 vs Pakistan, to a senior and almost irreplaceable figure in the side. I sat down with the 28-year-old midfielder for a candid conversation. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you describe how it feels to represent Nepal?
When I first played for the U-14 national side, I was a child and couldn’t even imagine how [significant] it would feel to wear the national colors. But when I put that jersey on, it felt incredible. I was really emotional on that particular day.
What is your favorite position to play on the field?
I started playing as a striker and now I enjoy playing in midfield.
I often wonder if midfielders enjoy scoring goals more or assisting them. Many of them have the clinical skillset to get on the scoresheet. Basnet certainly does. But not everyone has the selfless mindset to set it up for someone else. So, I had to ask:
Do you enjoy scoring or assisting them more?
Scoring goals is more important to win games for the team, so scoring is the priority. But if my assists help the team score a goal and contribute to the team, then I’m satisfied.
Basnet mentions that she doesn’t have hobbies outside football because that is all she has known since childhood. She likes watching Brazil at the World Cups, while on an individual basis, enjoys the way Paulo Dybala plays.
Basnet and Sabitra Bhandari were the first women from Nepal to play abroad, in India. They played for Sethu FC in the Indian Women’s League (IWL) wearing jersey number 10 and 9 respectively.
How was the IWL experience for you?
I got to play on an international platform for the first time coming from Nepal. Bala Devi, Ashalata Devi, Ratanbala, Sweety, Grace–I got to play with or against all the senior Indian players, and learnt a lot from them. When we play international matches, we are opponents, but through the IWL, I got to learn their strategies and brought some of those things back to my Nepal teammates.
What is your main aim going forward?
First, I want to win a gold medal with the Nepal team. We haven’t won a gold medal yet, so that is the aim of my career. Further on, it may be in football or not. I will see when it comes to that.
Will the gold medal be in this SAFF Women’s Championship edition?
We don’t think any team is weaker than us. Every team we face is tough, but we expect a gold medal this time. We have worked hard, so let’s see how it goes.
There were 2,000+ people in the stands for the opening match, did you feel their energy?
Obviously, it’s a good feeling to play in front of your home crowd. The number was smaller than we expected, but we were happy to see at least 2,000+ turn up for the game.
The last edition of SAFF, the final, had a sell-out crowd. Can we repeat that?
We have always had a huge crowd wherever we play. We had a great crowd in Biratnagar for SAFF 2019 and Pokhara for the South Asian Games 2019 (both finals had India as opponents and a 10,000+ crowd). We expect a very good crowd at Dasharath Stadium as it is one of our few international stadiums. We are keen to see more love from the audience in this tournament.
Everyone in Nepal seems to love football. Has that love been inculcated in you from a young age?
We don’t have a strong grassroots system, and we don’t play in many domestic matches, but our age groups still have gifted players. Many young players love and strive to play for their country. The number is huge. It’s an easy sport to understand and pick up, maybe because they think it’s only about scoring goals. Everyone finds it fun to experience scoring goals, so it’s appealing.
You are so soft-spoken in person, is that your nature?
I’m naturally like this. On the field, I try to stay normal but a little aggressive side automatically comes out.
Who is your inspiration?
My family is, first and foremost, my biggest inspiration. Without the help of my family, I could not be where I am now. They deserve all the credit. Nobody in my family is involved in football or any other sport, but because I was interested in it, they encouraged me to play outdoors from a young age.
Tehrathum, in northeastern Nepal, where I come from, doesn’t even have a district football association. Coming from such a remote place, they are very proud of me. I was known by my father’s name before, but now they all know me as a player. It makes me very proud. I’m very grateful for the support of my family.
A message to Nepal to come and support the team at Dasharath Stadium?
You have always had our backs. We are here only because you support us on the pitch. You have supported us passionately in the past, but we still need you here more than ever. So, I’d like you to come and support us for it would mean a lot and give us an extra boost of strength.
Basnet’s message was pretty clear. The players feed off the crowd’s energy. The tickets start at Rs 300 and I hope Kathmandu locals head to Dasharath Stadium to support this group of talented and inspiring individuals. Nepal has made it to the semi-final, and she has played every minute so far. The aim ahead? Gold.
Special mention to Manila Kafle and Sandesh Sidgel for assisting with the translation