Despite it being their first appearance, the U-18 Bhutan national team is hoping to clinch a spot in the top three in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) championship that kicks-off today at the Changlimithang stadium in Thimphu.

Bhutan is hosting the tournament for the first time and with Sri Lanka out of the championship, five South Asian countries – India, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Nepal are in the country for the tournament.

Youth Academy Coach, Song Jun Lee, will make his debut appearance in the SAFF U-18 championship with the boys. “Our aim is to make into the top three spots. India and Nepal would be the toughest team but we would also show our good performance,” he said. “We will play better than the past and the players do not give up easily. That will keep us moving in the championship.”

India and Bangladesh will play the opening match. Bhutan’s first match is rescheduled against the Maldives today. The tournament will now be played in the league format, where each team will play all teams in turns. The team that wins the highest points wins the championship. Each team will now get to play two extra matches.

The last-minute withdrawal of Sri Lanka from the championship led to the change in the championship format.

During a press conference in Thimphu yesterday, coaches from five countries shared their views on the impact caused by the change to the teams.

Head Coach of the Maldives, Ihusan Abdul Ghani said that the previous format would have been better for the team.

“We planned to travel four days ahead to prepare and help players adapt to the altitude but the last minute change in format disturbed our plans. The weather here is different from our place and getting familiar with it in two or three days will be difficult,” he said. “We did not get enough time to prepare for this tournament. However, we are improving and we are aiming to win at least two matches.”

India’s coach Floyd Pinto said he is working with the combination of players as most players were selected from different academy and clubs. “I think we have a good chance to win. Nepal is also the title favorites but we will play all the four matches as finals to win,” he said.

Bhutan’s U-16 players have performed well in recent U-16 SAFF championship with coach Song Jun Lee. The boys secured the first international win against Sri Lanka 6-0 in Nepal. Bhutan finished fourth in the championship.

“We trained for the championship since February. The boys had been playing together for a year. I am confident that they will play well. The effort of every player is important as we don’t have skillful and talented players. If the combinations and coordination of the players come good, I am confident that their presence will make the difference,” the coach said.

Nepal’s coach, Chiring Lobsang said that the team is here to defend the championship. “We are the title favorites and we are here to win. The change in format has given us a better chance.”

Bangladesh’s coach, Mahabub Hossian Roxy said that his players played in a professional league. “We are well prepared and we will play with a strong mentality. India and Nepal are the toughest opponents but we‘ll try hard to win.”

Bhutan will play its first match against the Maldives at 7PM today.