In a show of natural grit, Bhutan’s under-23 football team fought till the last minute against the hosts in the final of 13th South Asian Games (SAG) in Kathmandu, Nepal yesterday.
With yesterday’s loss, Bhutan’s national team settles for silver medal in the SAG but evidently won the hearts of thousands of Bhutanese and football fans alike. Many remained glued to television screens and laptops watching the match in office, restaurants, and at home.
Team Bhutan had emerged stronger after suffering defeat in its first meeting with Nepal when it lost 4-0. Then, the players didn’t get proper rest as they had played opening match with Bangladesh the previous day.
Despite the magnificent support from the home crowd, Nepal came under pressure throughout the game. The game saw a collective effort by the Bhutanese players balancing both the defensive and attacking positions.
In a highly contested game, Abhisek Rijal broke the deadlock in the 17th minute to give Nepal an early lead, but skipper Chencho Gyeltshen grabbed the equaliser in the 37th minute. The loud Nepalese home support took some time to recover from the surprise. His goal reignited the hope for Bhutanese.
Buoyed by the equaliser, the Dragon Boys continued to maintain a notable ball possession and mounted pressure to Nepalese side, but couldn’t capitalise on the chances created in the remaining minutes. The first half ended 1-1.
The Nepalese reclaimed their lead in the second half. Sunil Bal headed in a perfect cross in the 54th minute to double the lead and sealed off the match. Sunil Bal celebrated his goal by removing his shirt and also took a selfie with team mates.
Bhutan had a chance to equalised the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Nepalese resorted to defend. Nepal replaced their players after injuries and muscle cramps at the dying moments of the game.
Of twelve shots during the game, team Bhutan landed five on target. Nepal had six of the seven shots on the target.
After the match, Bhutanese heaped praises for the team’s achievement on social media.
This is the first time Bhutan’s under-23 national team played in the international final match and their relentless march towards final reflects the improvement of football in the country within short span of time.
Except the game against Nepal, team Bhutan beat Bangladesh 1-0, Maldives 2-1, and Sri Lanka 3-0.
Team captain Chencho Gyeltshen and Chimi Dorji scored two goals each while Phub Thinley, Dawa Tshering and Yeshey Dorji scored one each.
This is the fourth time Nepal’s under-23 team has won the title after holding three titles in 1984, 1993, and 2016.