Bhutan comes through two-leg encounter with Sri Lanka 3-1 to qualify for next round

Football: After luring two defenders and baiting the goalkeeper to the left corner of the post, striker Chencho Gyeltshen side stepped back outwards, leaving all three Sri Lankan players to watch as he slammed home the ball through them for team Bhutan’s second goal in the 89th minute.

All Bhutan needed was a draw, but the cushion of a second goal seemed necessary to please a home crowd, to convince that team Bhutan would win yesterday, and was better than its last place global ranking.

Even the caretaker of Dechenphug lhakang, which the team had visited earlier in the day to pray and receive blessings, had predicted victory after an auspicious sho (dice) of 13 had been rolled.

By beating Sri Lanka, ranked 35 places higher at 174, Bhutan now moves onto the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Despite playing with flu, Chencho Gyeltshen scored both goals for Bhutan.  His first goal came in the fifth minute, when he lifted the ball pass the onrushing Sri Lankan goalkeeper and into the net causing a packed Changlimithang to roar in delight, and to the joy of thousands more watching on television.

Officials even had to shut the stadium’s entrances as its capacity of 30,000 was clearly reached.  But this did not stop spectators from climbing on to trees and the stadium’s walls to watch the match.  Bhutan Football Federation chairman Ugyen Tsechup, at one of the gates, shouted that the officials could not let in those at the gates even if they offered thousands of dollars.

Needing two goals to beat Bhutan and to move onto the next round, Sri Lanka faced an uphill task.

But team Sri Lanka gained some much needed motivation when midfielder, Zarwan, headed in a corner to equalise the score on the 34th minute.  Sri Lanka would need one more goal to advance past Bhutan on goal difference.

The second half began shakily for the Dragon Boys faced by a rejuvenated Sri Lankan side.  But team Bhutan eventually gained control of the game, leading to at least four more scoring opportunities.  Chencho thought he scored again and ran in celebration, before the referee disallowed the goal for offside.

With Changlimithang stadium packed, some chose the willow trees for a better view

A second Sri Lanka goal nearly came in the dying minutes of the game, if it were not for a crucial save by goalie Hari Gurung, who stopped a header by substitute striker Sanjeev.

This was followed by striker Chencho’s second goal that would seal the win, but also leave him with a cramp, causing him to exit the game.

Sri Lankan coach Nikola Kavazovic did not offer any excuses for his team’s loss. “It was obvious that they were the better team than us and, simply put, the better team won,” he said in the post game press conference.  He added that Bhutan played aggressive and fast, and that they did not find an answer to that style of play. “They were simply too good for us,” he said, adding that Team Sri Lanka had played better than in Colombo.

He wished Team Bhutan all the best for the next round of the qualifiers.

National team coach Chokey Nima said that he had adopted a 5-1-3-1 offensive formation for yesterday’s game.  He said that, given Bhutan’s shortcomings in passing, the team has adopted an approach of getting to the target in the shortest possible way, and that it had paid off.  He also credited the team’s 12th player, the home support for the team’s win.

Following the team’s first win in Colombo, the coach said that he had reminded his players to not celebrate too much, and that what mattered was maintaining their performance and meeting their fans’ expectations.

The next round of the qualifiers will see Bhutan placed into one of eight groups of five teams, potentially to face off against Asian favourites like Japan, South Korea and Australia.

“We know our level, we can’t be over ambitious … we know we’re 209 and we’re going to face (better ranked) teams,” said coach Chokey Nima.  But he also pointed out that this did not mean Team Bhutan would not be able to perform.  He added that the team would prepare by strengthening its tactical awareness, skills, and experience, by playing more exposure matches.

In a gesture of appreciation to the home crowd, Team Bhutan exited the stadium through the stands, meeting fans and well-wishers, many of them chanting “Palden Drukpa Lha Gyelo”.

“It was a great game, they proved themselves,” said Karma, a fan, who like hundreds others was sporting the team’s orange jersey. “This will take football to the next level,” he added.

History was made and history remains unchanged.  Bhutan remains undefeated on Changlimithang ground.

By Younten Tshedup

Additional reporting by

Tshering Palden and 

Gyalsten K Dorji


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