Thousands of mainly young Bhutanese supporters roared at the Changlimithang stadium on witnessing the milestone 2-1 victory of Bhutan’s national team over Sri Lanka on March 17th.
The match started around 4 pm and five minutes into the game Bhutan scored its first goal when Bhutan’s jersey number 7, Chencho Gyeltshen swiftly kicked the ball into the net.
This early goal bought the entire stadium on its feet celebrating and the cheers became even louder from the supporters.
With a big crowd cheering for them Bhutan played confidently and kept up pressure on the Sri Lankan national team.
The crowd support also played an important part as the stadium was mainly packed with students from Thimphu’s various schools cheering faithfully and energetically. A group of slightly older supporters wearing Bhutan national team shirts managed to start the first of many Mexican waves. Those in the VIP stadiums opposite the main crowd clapped and cheered in appreciation.
However, spurred on by the early goal the Sri Lankan team found its football legs and started keeping more possession of the ball, passing the ball around well and attacking Bhutan’s goal post.
Sri Lanka’s pressure paid off as around 13 minutes to half time Sri Lankan midfielder Zarwan scored the equalizing goal through a header from a corner kick. The score remained 1-1 when the referee blew the half-time whistle.
Bhutan played a much better game in the second half as the team passed the ball around and made several attacking runs into the Sri Lankan goal post area with some near misses.
One moment of the game was when Chencho shot a goal and the entire stadium erupted only to be denied as it turned out to be an offside. The crowd booed in disapproval of the linesman’s decision for a while but after that close miss team Bhutan’s game became even more aggressive and coordinated as the number of attacks and attempts on the Sri Lankan goal post increased.
A key moment of the game was when Chencho lay on the ground suffering from what appeared to be a cramp and looked for the referee’s attention to allow him to change. However, as luck would have it the referee did not see him and at the very next moment a pass came Chencho’s way.
Though still being injured Chencho in a heroic attempt got up and ran with the ball dribbling past a defender and the goal keeper to shoot Bhutan’s second goal.
The entire stadium erupted with joy as the national team also celebrated. Unable to take the pain anymore Chencho collapsed on the ground. Apart from the cramp Chencho had been playing the entire match suffering from flu. He was then allowed to leave as the field.
With the game on the verge of ending, the Sri Lankan players body language said it all as some of lay on the ground defeated. This was because by now even if Sri Lanka managed a late goal and leveled the score Bhutan would still win in the total scores and advance to the next round.
Bhutan defended well in the last few minutes and did not let Sri Lanka get anywhere near doing any serious damage.
As the whistle blew at the end of 90 minutes Bhutan had created its own football history being the first time it had gone to the next round in the World Cup qualifiers.
There were loud celebrations of joy in the stadium as people jumped up and down, hugged and cheered. The national team ran a victory lap and bowed to thank its supporters. Some free footballs were also distributed to the crowd.
Bhutan national team coach and technical director of Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), Chokey Nima said the 2-1 win at home was a massive win bigger than even the first game of 1-0.
“We did it and we are through into the second round. We are happy to have won the game,” the team coach said.
However, he said, “We cannot be over ambitious but at the same time we have to give the best as we will be facing the best teams in our upcoming matches. Maybe we have to play lot of exposure matches to gain experience so as to cope with the pressure from high ranking teams in Asia.”
Talking about the teams 5-1-3 formation, he said, “Yes we intended to play offensive because I had two top players today,” the Coach said.
He said that since Bhutanese national team was not well trained in the technical aspects, the game plan was set to get to the target in the shortest way through long passes.
The goal scorer, Chencho Gyeltshen, 19 said he felt great because of support from his teammates and the goal. He said it was due to the strong support from supporters that the team managed to play to its full potential.
“The better team won twice and the better team is going to the next stage,” Sri Lanka coach, Nikola Kavazovic said. He said the Bhutanese national team played very fast and aggressively.
President of BFF, Dasho Ugen Tsechup Dorji said, “The win means so much for the boys who have worked so hard.”
In addition, Dasho applauded the BFF for having put in a lot of effort. “The win would inspire the juniors to improve and practice hard and represent country in the future,” said Dasho.
“I was worried that they would lose their focus before the game kicked off,” team manager and vice president of BFF, Hishey Tshering said.
Analyzing the match, he said the team’s priority was to catch Sri Lanka’s team on the counter attack as Sri Lanka would have to come to get the goal just to equalize.
Team captain, Karma Shedrup Tshering said the team had not much time to prepare for the match but got only around a month. He added that training in Bangkok really helped the team to acclimatize with the weather in Sri Lanka.
Coach Chokey Nima said, “It is teamwork, attitude, determination and psychological strength that carried us further rather than just skills”.