How Bhutan lost the plot, 7 times in a row

Analysis: When the Hong Kong national team coach, Kin Pan-gon, said his team was too strong for Bhutan, he couldn’t have meant just in terms of physical strength.

After the 7-0 drubbing of Bhutan, he would probably concede that we could now take him literally.  Ranked five places above Hong Kong in the FIFA’s latest team listing, there were hopes that Bhutan could pull off yet another surprise.  The odds were on Bhutan to lose, but not as badly as the final result showed.  Some actually predicted Bhutan to win.

After 90 minutes on Thursday, we were made to eat crow.  The match was one-sided.  The national players, despite giving their best, had hardly any ball possession.  Whether it was from pressure of pulling another surprise win, or the hangover from a long flight, plus the 10-1 drubbing at a friendly in Thailand, the team looked shaky and nervous from the first whistle.

The fine and quick passing of the Hongkongers overwhelmed the midfield, where usually games are made and play dictated.  Except toward the dying minutes, the Bhutanese team couldn’t string together five passes.  At least, three of the seven goals were because of mistakes committed in the midfield.

What went wrong?

Bhutan couldn’t get a good share of the play.  The strategy benefited the Hongkongers.  The taller and bigger Hongkongers won almost everyone on the challenges in the air.  Midfielders were robbed of possession, when controlling an aerial pass.  Long balls didn’t find another Bhutanese, as they were sandwiched between taller players.

If striker Chencho Gyeltshen, on whom a lot of hope was pinned, had an off day, it was because he always disappeared between the two six-foot-one tall Hong Kong defenders.  The Cameroon born defender Kilama and Bai He were never troubled.  If they were big, they had pace as well to cover ground.

The striker was never fed with the ball.  Stats show one attempt on target from Bhutan.  The Hong Kong goalie was not troubled, as Bhutan attempts were restricted to hopeful shots from distance.

Hong Kong scored three headed goals in the first half.  Defenders Dhan Bahadur and Dawa Gyeltshen, both 5.5ft tall, are easily out-jumped, even if they were in the right place at the right time to defend.  At 5.4ft, left defender, Diwash Subba, is even smaller.

Towering above them was British born striker, Jaimes McKee, at 5.11ft.  He scored twice and missed a sitter.  Ghana-born substitute, Godfred Karikari, who became an instant hit among Bhutanese because of his name, ran riot after he came in for another Ghana-born Hong Kong player, Annan.

Strikers and midfielders ran back to defend set pieces and crosses from regular play, but they were overshadowed by size, outstripped by speed and out-jumped.

On the other end, the most exquisite cross couldn’t find a Bhutanese head.  At 5.6ft, Chencho Gyeltshen couldn’t see the ball swung from the sides.  Cameroon born Kilama and the Nigerian-born Hong Kong footballer, Festus Baise (5ft 10 inches), always had him marked.

With an average height of 1.64m (20 players), the national team could be considered a team of average height.  While this is a disadvantage in holding up balls, as evident from Thursday, height is not the deciding factor.  There is always room for smaller players, if they keep the ball on the ground and pass it around.

Bhutan’s goalie, Hari Gurung, the unofficial man of the match for the Bhutanese fan, is 5.6ft tall.  He made some crucial saves, because of his agility and ability to judge the ball.  Hong Kong could have taken the lead as early as in the 9th minute.  He saved us some blushes.

We will see taller players come to Changlimithang.  Right tactical changes, good sense of awareness, desire to compete fiercely and win, could compensate a lot for not being tall.  That could be the weapon in the battle of Changlimitahng on Tuesday.

By Ugyen Penjore