The Dragon boys conceded 28 goals in three matches

Analysis: That Bhutan lost its third straight World Cup qualifying match to the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar on Thursday didn’t come as a surprise although a trouncing of 15 goals to nil came as a bit of a shock.

Conceding 15 goals in a World Cup qualifying match, without scoring even one is an embarrassment, a reality check on the dreams of the national team to progress on their road to Russia.

If beating Sri-Lanka, home and away and progressing to the next round, was down to sheer determination and some luck, everybody knew that the hurdle was bigger. With three games played, the record stands something like this: Played three, points 0, goals scored 0 and goals conceded 28.

Rock bottom in Group C without a single point and goal difference of -28, Bhutan’s chances of moving on to the next round is as good as over. The squad and manager were aware of this and therefore, every match was about putting up a good performance or ‘at least score a goal’.

Qatar was dominant in every department. Coach Norio Tsukitate summed up what went wrong in Qatar. Football is about scoring and defending, the coach who is coming under some pressure, although limited only to social media said after the match. “We couldn’t score nor defend at all.”

The winning mentality is not missing, but given the sheer strength of the opponent, both physically and skill wise, winning one of the eight matches, with five more left, will be an achievement.

Like after the match against Hong Kong and China, the coach is hopeful it will be better against Maldives next month. “We have to analyse not only our opponents abilities but also our own and perform better at home,” he said.

Mathematically, there is a ray of hope to qualify, as there are 15 more points to play for. The reality is all the remaining matches has to be won and by a huge goal difference.

The worst record

Round three of the qualifiers on Thursday night was a goal galore in the Asia region. It was not only Bhutan who was struck with an avalanche of goals. Malaysia crashed 10-0 against UAE, Laos let in 8, Myanmar 9, Timor Leste 7, Guam 6 and neighbouring Bangladesh 5. In all, 76 goals were scored with Bhutan conceding, on an average, one goal every six minutes against Qatar.

This is not Bhutan’s worst record as the 20-0 drubbing in the hands of Kuwaitis in 2000 still stands as the record.  However, it is also not the worst record internationally.

The record of highest number of goals conceded in a World Cup qualifying match is still held by American Samoa. The tiny island nation conceded 31 goals in 2001 when they played Australia in the Oceanian zone qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

In that match, Australian Archie Thompson broke the record of most goals scored by a player in an international match by scoring 13 goals. In the same year, Australia also beat Tonga 22-0 breaking the record for the largest win in an international match held by Kuwait for that infamous 20-0 win against Bhutan in 2000.

Football has won

Since the 3-1 win in the second leg against Sri Lanka in March, Bhutanese football fans have not been able to celebrate another goal. Notwithstanding the heavy loses and not getting a goal to celebrate, the support for the national team is overwhelming.

Against every opponent’s goal, the ball reaching the opponent’s area is enough to excite Bhutanese fans. It might reflect the dearth of goals, but a close attempt or an organised penetration into the opponent’s goalmouth gives Bhutanese fans a reason to cheer. The Dragon Boys are not jeered at or have become an object of scorn after every defeat, no matter the margin.

And from our first home game experience, support for the visiting team is not missing even when the national team is getting thrashed. Hong Kong, Qatar and Maldives will have to come to Changlimethang. A goal in any of the three home matches will be remembered more than the 15-0 trouncing on Thursday in the desert heat of Qatar.

Ugyen Penjore