The national football team came home on Saturday to a heroic reception. The big win in our first World Cup qualifying match against Sri Lanka has suddenly turned the attention on the national squad.
There is a feel of togetherness at home, at least among those who follow football. Wishes are overflowing on social media for the Dragon Boys. Beyond the mountains, our first win made headlines. There were many rave reviews of our first game. But the match is not over. There is a second leg to be played.
There is confidence in the air among the squad that we will emerge winners. Call it mind games or overconfidence, both teams are predicting not only a win but by how many goals.
In football, there is something called home advantage. This is because we are used to playing on our home turf, and there will be supporters, dubbed the 12th man. Support does matter. Cheers encourage players and jeers make even seasoned players jittery.
Who will progress on the long road to Russia will be decided this evening. But there is more than football in such important games. While we expect both our players and the supporters to give their best, we expect them as well to convey the right values on the sports field. It would be unfortunate to leave a bad taste behind, whoever qualifies for the next round.
There is already a plea from the small Bhutanese community in Colombo, Sri Lanka, asking Bhutanese supporters to be nice to our guests. Our boys were treated well. Anything can happen during 90 minutes in the heat of the game. Not to deride both teams, we know we will not progress very far in our dream of playing in Russia. But such an important sporting event is a platform to showcase our sportsmanship spirit.
The game will be shown live on national TV. Schools and institutions will watch it. Apart from physical talents, sport is an activity that builds personality and character. That is why we encourage sports among youth.
Supporters can become wild. Taunting the opponent or passing racial remarks to distract them is being mean spirited. Besides, that will not leave a good image of the friendly people we are.
Bhutanese are full of surprises, and we can expect some section of the crowd to support the opponent. It has happened in the past. That is unique to us. A win is possible and important for the national team. But a national team or its supporters conveying wrong values will be damaging to the image of our countrymen on the world stage. There is a lot of attention going to be paid to this game.
Cheating and influencing decisions of the referee have become a part of the game despite condemnation. We don’t expect the Dragon Boys to behave like immature youth on the international stage. Nor do we expect a rowdy crowd to spoil the beautiful game.
Both teams cannot be winners in a match. We will accept defeat with dignity, and celebrate a win with magnanimity and respect for our guests.