It is not often that the little Dragon Boys, the pet name for the national football team, can roar the loudest. It did so on Tuesday evening when they beat the “Dragons,” also the nickname of the Hong Kong, China national team 2-0 at the Changlimithang ground.

Played over two legs to progress to the next round of the World Cup 2026 qualifying play-off, the little dragons did the nation proud even if it exited the tournament and crushed the hopes of the fans to see Bhutan compete at tougher stages. Many felt that we were unlucky to be drawn against Hong Kong whose football association dates as early as 1914, seven years after Bhutan crowned its first hereditary monarch in 1907.

On a chilly Tuesday evening, the dragons stood shoulder to shoulder and beat for the first time in three attempts, one of the best teams in Asia.  It comes as a huge encouragement for the team and the football federation beyond providing some quality entertainment to Thimphu residents and football fans.

What we can learn from the win is that notwithstanding our size, we can compete at the highest level. With proper selection, training, preparation and investment, team Bhutan can compete with the best. What they have is also the support of the people, football fans or not.  With a federation and leadership, the sport is improving by the year. The best of the best are selected from all over the country through camps and tournaments. Gone are the days when footballers or other sportsmen were chosen on all grounds but talent and skills.

Bhutanese sportsmen or women have been known to be hardworking, capable and disciplined for a long time. In the past, many received scholarships to study in schools and colleges in the neighbouring Indian cities and states because of sports even if the academics were not up to the mark.

When it comes to competition in the region, even in South Asia, many nations consider us to be the punching bag whether it is football, basketball or cricket. Some are thinking twice as Bhutan impresses and competes well with bigger nations. Just recently, Bhutan won the 5 Nations Basketball Championship held in the Maldives. While it was one of the biggest sporting achievements, it made many consider small Bhutan a formidable opponent – at least when it comes to sports.

Sports provide opportunities that many cannot fathom. How many would have imagined Bhutanese footballers playing in professional leagues in the region? The captain of the national team, Chencho Gyeltshen, is a household name in some Indian states and in Nepal where he represented local clubs. Many more are being monitored by professional clubs. At home, the football leagues are becoming the grounds for grooming professionals if not a platform for those who want to pursue sports as a career.

The local competitions are improving and becoming competitive. Competitions at school, inter-school, inter-dzongkhag and national levels provide opportunities to identify skills which can be honed with training and coaching. With the right investment and decisions, we can still improve our players and make them competitive enough to not only beat but win games and tournaments.