Football: National champions, Thimphu City FC, kick off their 2017 season against Maldivian national champions, Club Valencia, in the first leg of the AFC Cup preliminary round (South Asia Zone) at the Changlimithang Stadium today.

In their maiden clash against the highlanders, the islanders are optimistic of their changes in a land unfamiliar to most of them. The head coach of Club Valencia, Mohamed Iqbal, during a press conference held in Thimphu yesterday said that apart from the higher altitude deterring the visitors, his players should perform competently.

“Since most of my players are new to such weather conditions, the altitude could pose a problem for us,” said that 49-year-old coach. “However, if we can hold on to our strategy and play as we have planned, we should achieve something from the game.”

This will also be the first time the team will be playing an international game on an artificial turf. “We have artificial pitches in the Maldives and we have had adequate practise on the pitch. I don’t think there should be any problem for the boys playing on the artificial pitch.”

However, the team is not satisfied with their practise duration. “We had just around 10 days of practise prior to the game today and we are not happy with the preparations,” said Mohamed Iqbal. “Anyhow, if we are able to play a better game, we might have a possibility win the match.”

He added that although the two teams have never confronted each other before, City during the short period of time has shown impressive growth and it would be a tough challenge. “I believe this is the most dangerous phase when a team has just started to perform better,” he said.

With players like Yousuf Rameez and Mohamed Faisal from the national squad and three international players from Nigeria, Mohamed Iqbal said that the team is at least looking for a draw if not a win. “We’ll attack and also try to hold the balls from the sides. This is a very important game for us.”

Meanwhile, after a successful camp during the 12th Sukna Gold Cup Challenge in India earlier this month, City head coach, Passang Tshering, is confident with his team.

“We are well prepared and I think the boys are ready for the big game tomorrow,” said Passang Tshering during the press conference, adding that since it is a home match there is an added advantage for the team. “More than pressure, the home crowd should boost the morale of the boys and help us achieve the three points.”

Skipper Tshering Dorji said that with the pool of talent in the squad, he is expecting to win the match. National skipper, Karma Shedrup will be in action along with the versatile Nima Wangdi who will be assisted by the experienced Karun Gurung. The lanky Jigme T Dorji will guard the backline as the centre defender.

Meanwhile, Chencho Gyeltshen who recently completed his contract with a Bangladeshi club, Chittagong Abahani, might also be in action today. Chencho who now deals through an agent is awaiting his agent’s approval to play the match.

City has already registered the Bhutanese star with the club but the final decision rests with Chencho whether to play or not.

The match kicks off at 6pm at the national stadium today.

Younten Tshedup