Football: There is no denying that if a national team wants to improve, the local leagues must improve as well. The recent success of the Bhutanese national team can be credited to the revamped leagues in the country.

The quality of the national and Thimphu league in recent years saw remarkable improvement with a few clubs bringing in international players to strengthen the teams. The leagues not only generated support from the local business institutions but also brought in a few global sponsors.

Thimphu City FC emerged as the undisputed champions this year, winning almost all the major league titles except for the under-16 championship.

As a result, the Citizens will take on a Maldivian club, Club Valencia, in the upcoming AFC Cup preliminary round (South Asia Zone) in a two-legged match.

Formed in 1979 Club Valencia is a Malé based football club that plays in the Dhivehi Premier League, the top league in the country. The club has won five national championships, five Maldives FA Cups, six Maldives Cup Winners’ Cups, and three POMIS Cups and the Youth Championship in 2013.

Club Valencia was the first Maldivian club to pay salaries to its players.

City will host Club Valencia on January 31 at Changlimithang in the first leg of the series.

After a successful season this year, the Citizens resume their training next week. City head coach Passang Tshering is optimistic about his team’s chances during the home match.

“This will be our first time playing a Maldivian club. We don’t know much about the club. I know my team, and I know my players are at their top form,” said the 33-year-old coach.

With almost a month’s practise sessions planned for the team, Passang Tshering wants to focus more on the technical and tactical areas. He said that because of the on-going national team practises, the players are all physically fit.

Most of the players on the team are from the national squad.

City has one of the best back-lines in the country today. With the long-legged Jigme T Dorji as their centre defender, the team conceded the least number of goals (11) and registered five clean-sheets in the Thimphu League. City also scored the highest goals in the league, 44 goals in 14 games.

Of the many popular national players on the team, the young talents on the team have also made an impression during the recent leagues.  Orgyen Wangchuk Tshering, 16, who is the youngest scorer in the national league will make a difference with his skilful play if he plays on January 31.

Passang Tshering said that despite the pool of individual talents in his team, he is more confident with the teamwork the squad has displayed in  recent years. “The first home match should come as an advantage to us. We can prepare accordingly for the away game.”

City president Hishey Tshering said that football in Bhutan has now reached a stage where teams can prove to be competitive not only in a local league but also in international competitions.

He said that there was a time when the teams and players alike were under pressure. The pressure he said was not just to lose but also not to concede several goals. “But now when we go out to play international games, we feel we can win some games and create upsets.”

“We still get pressure but this time the pressure is to perform better and win games,” said Hishey Tshering. “The pressure of winning far better than the pressure of embarrassment.”

Younten Tshedup