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Kathmandu:  In a historic moment in the history of Nepali women’s basketball, the national team is set to play on the home court as the NBL-Kabha Mahila Basketball Challenge Cup begins today.

Eight countries from Central Asia will compete in the tournament held at the Tripureshwor-based National Sports Council covered hall. Among the 14 teams affiliated with the Central Asian Basketball Association (NBL), which includes top-ranked teams from around the world such as Kazakhstan and strong teams from South Asia including India, eight teams will compete in this edition.

With the aim of winning the title for the third consecutive time and achieving a hat-trick, Nepal will kick off its title defense campaign against Kyrgyzstan today. The Nepal vs. Kyrgyzstan match will start at 4:30 PM local time. Nepal and Kyrgyzstan are in Group A along with Bangladesh and India. Similarly, in Group B, there are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The previous edition’s runner-up Uzbekistan will play the first match against Sri Lanka today.

After the group stage matches, the top two teams will advance to the semifinals.

In the previous edition of the tournament held in the Kyela region, Nepal emerged as the winner. This time, with the arrival of a strong team, Nepal will play on the home court and in front of home supporters.

Nepal has prepared for three months under the guidance of experienced Belgian coach Jan De Brandt. However, the lack of international exposure and the injury of key spiker Pratibha Mali pose challenges for Nepal.

The absence of talent Pratibha will be felt in the team as she will not be able to participate due to her injury, giving an opportunity to other players.

Head coach Jan De Brandt has emphasized that although one player may be absent, the overall team needs to perform well. Assistant coach Jagdish Bhatt, who was the coach when Nepal won the Asian Women’s Central Zone Volleyball Championship twice before, said that the absence of Pratibha will have a natural impact on the team.

Captain Aruna Shahi is also among the key players of the team, and her absence will be felt. In the absence of Pratibha, experienced spiker Saraswati Chaudhary, Salina Shrestha, and Safia Pun will play, along with players such as Usha Bhandari and Niruta Thagunna.

The 14-member team, led by captain Aruna, includes six new faces this time. Some players will have the opportunity to make their debut in this tournament.

Captain Aruna, along with Saraswati Chaudhary, Salina Shrestha, and Safia Pun, were also part of the Central Zone-winning team in the previous two editions. Likewise, Niruta Thagunna and Poonam Chand were part of the team that won the Central Zone in 2019, while Usha Bhandari and Kamana Bista were part of the team that won the Central Zone in 2021.

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