Thinley Namgay 

Thimphu City FC will play against the Maldives’ club Eagles in the preliminary round one of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup in the first week of April.

The winner will face Abahani Limited of Dhaka, Bangladesh in the round two on April 14.

Thimphu City sealed the spot for this year’s AFC qualifiers from Bhutan as the champions of BoB Bhutan Premier League 2020.  The club snatched 12 wins of the 14 games played in the premier league season.

Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the games will be played on a single leg in a centralised venue which is not yet decided. The Member Associations will now bid to host the matches with strict compliance to Covid-19 protocol.

Nine teams from SAARC region are participating in the tournament. The winner of the Indian Super League, ATK-Mohan Bagan, and the champions of Bangladesh and the Maldives premier league- Bashundhara Kings and Maziya earned direct entry into the group stage.

Army Club of Nepal, Sri Lankan Police Club, Club Eagles of the Maldives, Thimphu City FC, Bengaluru FC and Abahani Limited Dhaka will compete for the remaining slot in the group.

The winners of the stage two preliminary will enter the play-off round on April 20 with the winners joining the other three teams in the group stage.

Considering the strict quarantine requirements, Bhutan is unlikely to host the matches. Thimphu City FC’s President, Hishey Tshering, said if the government decides that it was safe to conduct the games, his club would be delighted. 

In his recent video message in the club’s official Facebook page, Hishey Tshering, claimed that with all the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, this was actually an opportunity for us to at least have some economic activity by bidding to host the tournament. “Due to quarantine requirements and all, I think it is unlikely that Bhutan will be bidding for the venue.”

The club is worried about the attendance of some players who are studying at the Royal Thimphu College.

The other concern is regarding the quarantine requirement on returning from the tournament. “It would be costly for us to pay for our quarantine. We hope that either the government or the Bhutan Football Federation will help us cover the costs,” said Hishey Tshering.

“Getting our players fit will be our immediate priority. The Maldivian League is currently underway, and our opponent will be well prepared,” he said.

In the past AFC competitions, the clubs from Bhutan have not made it beyond the Preliminary stage one, but in 2020, Paro FC broke the trend by beating defenders FC of Sri Lanka. They lost to Bengaluru FC in the second round.

“We will be taking one game at a time and if not the group stage, we at least hope to get into the play-off round. That itself should be considered a success by our fans. We hope the county will be behind us,” said Hishey Tshering.

This is the second time Thimphu City qualified for the AFC qualifier match after 2017 when it lost to club Valencia of Maldives.