Thinley Namgay

The 2022 Bhutan Premier League (BPL) champions, Paro FC will face Nepal’s Machhindra FC in the highly anticipated preliminary stage of the AFC Cup Qualifiers at Dasharath Rangasala Stadium in Nepal tomorrow.

The Tigers arrived in Nepal on August 5 for their third major international appearance. The club has won the BPL three times since its inception in 2018.

Machhindra FC, the runner-up of Nepal’s 2023 Martyrs Memorial A Division League, will become the third club from Nepal to play against Paro FC. During the 2019 Gold Cup held in Phuentsholing, Paro played against Nepal’s Army and Three Star FC, defeating them.

Machhindra FC got the opportunity to represent Nepal after the League champion Church Boys failed to secure the AFC Club Licence required for participation.

Paro FC’s head coach, Puspalal Sharma, is confident about the game, which coincides with the ongoing 2023 BPL season. “Due to the current BPL, training has been consistent, and we are well-prepared to face Machhindra FC,” said Sharma.

He also mentioned that the opponent deployed most of their national players this time, with only four international players, whereas, as per the AFC regulations, teams are allowed to have six international players.

Paro FC also has four foreign recruits, all of whom will feature in the match. The team recruited Kinga Wangchuk from Transport United FC and Karma Tsheltrim from Ugyen Academy FC, for forward and defense positions, respectively.

Sharma acknowledged that Nepal doesn’t have a tournament at present, giving Paro FC an advantage. However, he pointed out that the home ground could be advantageous for the opponent, as their players are comfortable playing on natural grass, while Paro FC’s players are more accustomed to artificial turf. Additionally, AFC has made it a one-leg game instead of a home-and-away format, as in the past seasons.

The winner of the preliminary round will play against ATK Mohun Bagan FC of India.

In the 2020 AFC match, Paro held Defenders FC of Sri Lanka to 2-2 and 3-3 draws. However, the team suffered losses of 1-0 and 9-1 against Bengaluru FC in 2021 and a 1-2 defeat against Valencia of the Maldives last year.