Football: The match between Thimphu City FC and Club Valencia in the first leg of the AFC Cup preliminary round ended in a goalless draw at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu yesterday.

The visitors wanted to build momentum for the get-go, trying their luck with long balls.

City struggled in the first half with some clumsy passes. The frustration was clearly seen in the actions of Passang Tshering, screaming from the side. However, it was the defenders, Nima Wangdi and Jigme T Dorji, who saved City’s face in front of the home crowd.

The brisk weather didn’t deter the football enthusiasts from gathering in huge number at the stadium. More than 4,000 spectators assembled to witness the national champions take on the islanders.

Much to the spectator’s surprise, Bhutanese star Chencho Gyeltshen was on the bench. In the 50th minute, Passang Tshering made a critical decision to replace Lungtok Dawa with Chencho Gyeltshen.

Chencho’s first touch in the game was a curling cross that went over skipper Tshering Dorji’s head, missing the off-footed Maldivian goalie. The tide had turned.

City missed several opportunities to break the deadlock in the second half. Tshering Dorji’s header hit the woodwork and went out for a goal kick. Chencho missed a one-on-one opportunity against goalie Mohamed Faisal in the 75th minute.

Passang Tshering, during the post match press conference, said that he would have brought in Chencho in the first-eleven if he had a choice. “Keeping Chencho in the bench was not a part of my strategy,” he said. “We couldn’t contact Chencho’s agent over the phone. Therefore, we weren’t sure of letting him play without approval.”

However, considering the dire need for some additional boost in the team, Chencho in the second half decided to play. His presence in the match made a big difference with at least two defenders guarding the striker after his entry.

Considered to be one of the fastest players on the national squad, Diwash Subba, was also brought in the game with some 30 minutes remaining on the clock. Passang Tshering said that considering the opponents would be tired in the second half, it was his strategy to bring in a swift player like Diwash to capitalise on the situation.

However, the duo could not help the team get a goal and the match ended on a goalless draw. “We couldn’t win today but a draw is better than losing a home match,” said Passang Tshering. “We will now go to Maldives with one point and hopefully win the game there.”

Club Valencia’s head coach Mohamed Iqbal was happy with the final score. “We played a better game against the cold weather condition that most of my players are not familiar with,” he said. “We had the potential to score in the match had my players capitalised on the opportunities they created.”

He said that had Chencho been a part of the game from the start, his team could have struggled. “His presence in the second half motivated his teammates to play better. However, my boys played well today and I’m happy with the draw.”

The second leg of the round will be played on February 7 in the Maldives.

Younten Tshedup