A historic win and Bhutan’s growing strength in football

The intensive effort put into grooming and training the young national footballers by the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) has finally paid off with a 1-0 victory in the first round of World Cup qualifying match against Sri Lanka on March 12.

Bhutan which is the lowest-ranked team in the world, faced off with the higher ranked Sri Lanka in the World Cup qualifying match. The Bhutan National Team has made history with its win.

The winning goal was scored by the 21-year-old mid fielder, Tshering Dorji.

The national football players are returning home today from Sri Lanka. The second leg of qualifier match with Sri Lanka is scheduled on March 17 at Changlimithang National Stadium.

According to the referee coordinator, Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), Gagan Rai, this is the first time that Bhutan is participating in a World cup qualifying match. “If the Bhutan team happens to win the second leg qualifier match, then FIFA will decide the next country the Bhutan team should contend with,” said Gagan.

If Bhutan either wins or even draws against Sri Lanka on March 17th then it will go to the second round where it will have to play against five teams and at that stage Bhutan could even face tough teams like Japan.

As per officials, BFF, the team received the best training and diet in Bangkok, Thailand for around a month. The Bhutan team also underwent rigorous training in Bangkok to help them acclimatize to hot climatic condition, which helped them to play well in Sri Lanka.

Currently, Bhutan stands at 209th out of 209 in the FIFA ranking. Sri Lanka stands at 173rd position.

The victory over Sri Lanka was also a moment of international sport pride as this paper counted around 114 news articles in various international media highlighting Bhutan’s victory.

The global coverage was visible in BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, AFP, Reuters, The Sydney Morning Herald, Gulf Times, ESPN, South China Morning Post, Zee News and many other outlets.

Bhutan’s win also prompted a tweet from the FIFA president himself Joseph Sepp Blatter who said, “A wonderful, historic moment. Bhutan, ranked 209/209 in world, won their 1st ever WCQ (world cup qualifier) today, 1-0 in Sri Lanka.”

The social media in the form of Facebook and twitter in Bhutan also went berserk as citizens across the country celebrated the win and congratulated the national team. It has also been learnt that the national team can expect a rousing welcome by fans right from the airport itself.

The Prime Minister and other ministers also congratulated the national team on the important victory.

The last time Bhutan made news in football was in 2000 when it received 20 goals in a match against Kuwait which became a world record at the time.

Bhutan played a match against Montserrat, the then two lowest ranked teams in the FIFA world rankings, called “The Other Final” in 2003 that coincided with the FIFA World Cup final. The game was played in the Changlimithang National Stadium, Thimphu. Bhutan won the game 4-0, enabling Bhutan to climb a step up in the ranking.

BFF so far has received support from FIFA, the international governing body of football in the world and also the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Local sponsors in Bhutan also help in promoting football for e.g. Lhaki Cement sponsors the Samtse Dzongkhag football club while Penden Group of Companies sponsors the Phuentsholing football club, and Ugyen Academy sponsors the Punakha football club. Other prominent sponsors are Coca Cola, Zimdra Foods and Samden Group. The Bhutan Olympic Committee also shares the limited funds that it gets from the government with the BFF.

The BFF President Ugen Tsechup Dorji said, “I am thrilled with the victory but at the same time I have always maintained that our aim is to not only win championships but to build grass root and youth football so that the foundation of football is strong in the country. The glory is an icing on the cake and it will give inspiration to young players in the football academy. They now have idols to look upon.”

The President said that the development of football infrastructure, the revival of the Kings Cup and the strengthening of the Bhutan National League had all contributed in strengthening football in Bhutan.

Infrastructure like three artificial grass fields and night lights have been invaluable in strengthening the game.

He said that the exposure that Bhutanese players gained from playing against some of the best teams in the region was very important.

The President that football in Bhutan could do with more financial support. He said that the funds from FIFA and AFC were project tied and the funds from government were limited since Bhutan is a small and poor country. He said a possible source of funding could be if the government allowed the support given by private companies to football matches as being allowed as expenses for tax deduction.

The BFF President explained that Bhutan’s low international ranking was primarily due to the low number of international FIFA matches it played. “Even if we play 10 matches and loose all ten our ranking will still go up as there are pointes for the losing team but given our limited resources we can’t play much international matches,” said the President.  He said that just to play one match outside Bhutan the expenses were between Nu 2.5 to Nu 3.5 mn.

He said so far in the initial round FIFA had provided the funds for the team but if Bhutan does qualify further then BFF would have to approach the government for support.



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