Chan Sui Ki’s lone goal in the dying minutes shatters Bhutanese hearts 

Football: Bhutan was three minutes short of securing its first point in the World Cup qualifiers in their fifth game against Hong Kong at the Changlimithang stadium yesterday.

If the thin air made it difficult for the Hongkongers, the rain that lashed for almost an hour made it difficult for the visitors to suppress the Dragon Boys like they did in the first leg in June. The physically taller and stronger players could not outpace the Bhutanese at home for much part of the game.

Led by a new head coach and skipper, Bhutan played a defensive game for the first 15 minutes.

The match saw equal opportunities created by both the teams to break the deadlock with both sides gaining equal possession of the game.

The strike-duo of Godfred Karikari and James Mckee, who terrorised the Bhutanese defence in June, created some trouble for goalie Hari Gurung in the beginning but Hari was equal to the challenge making some remarkable saves.

However, in the 89th minute, striker Chan Sui Ki’s header from defender Cheung Kin Fung’s corner kick finally broke the stiff Bhutanese resilience and broke the heart of the fans who braved the cold and the rain to cheer their team. Hari has come out to punch the ball to safety, but was too short for Sui Ki who left the keeper punching the cold air.

Bhutan’s interim head coach Pema said that the strategy was to defend for the first 15 minutes and then go on full attack, taking the advantage of the altitude.  “We gave our best today. We wanted to win and dedicate it to Their Majesties on their fourth Royal wedding anniversary,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t win but we gave our best till the end.”

Skipper Karun Gurung said that they adopted “zonal marking”, a defensive strategy where defenders cover an area of the pitch rather than marking a specific opponent. “This strategy worked perfectly until the 89th minute,” he said. “We played typical Bhutanese game, we’ll get back stronger for the next remaining games.”

Hong Kong’s head coach Kim Pan-Gon said that the rain and the high altitude was the main factor that prevented his team from scoring more goals.

“We lost several goal scoring opportunities because of the rain and the cold and small mistakes from our players,” the South Korean coach said. “But we overcame this difficulty and we’re going with three important points.”

The head coach credited the Bhutanese team for their “excellent performance.” He said Bhutan has improved a lot and he admired the attitude and passion of the players. “With more practise, the team will just get better,” he said.

Hong Kong retains its second position in Group C with the 10 points while Bhutan is rooted at the bottom without a point.

Younten Tshedup