SAFF Championships Group Stage
Halchowk Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal
Afghanistan 3-0 Bhutan
Despite suffering a loss, Bhutan actually put up something of a decent fight in their opening match of the SAFF Championships. Bhutan even created the first chance of the match – Sonam Tenzin firing wide in the 10th minute. Shortly after that, Afghanistan could have taken the lead but goalkeeper Leki Dukpa saved well.
While Afghanistan’s superiority was clear, and they dominated the play, Bhutan managed to stifle and frustrate their higher ranked opponents during a fairly even first half. That was until the 37th minute when a corner found Hashmatullah Barakzai who headed back across goal where Haroon Amiri nicked in ahead of the defender to head his side ahead.
Afghanistan thought they had added a second just before the break but their celebrations were cut short by the linesman flagging for offside.
The second half began with Bhutan pushing forwards with considerable purpose and no little skill. Their good work was almost rewarded when substitute Yeshey Dorji, just three minutes after coming on, chipped the ball over goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar only for the Afghanistan defender to clear the ball before it could cross the line.
But then a golden chance to get an equaliser and get back in to the match. Tshering Passang was brought down by Ali Ahmad and Bhutan had themselves a penalty kick. Sadly, the penalty saw Afghan goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar pull off a top save to maintain their lead. On such moments the twist of fat swings one way and then the next. Moments later Afghanistan launched a quick counterattack from which Mustafa Azadzoy hit a great first time shot into the bottom corner to make it 2-0. Game pretty much over.
In the closing minutes, Afghanistan got their third goal as Hashmatullah dribbled past two players and rifled his shot home.
It may have finished disappointingly but there were many positives for Bhutan coming from this match. They went toe-to-toe with Afghanistan for much of the match, and had they scored their penalty it could have been oh-so-gloriously different.
In the other group match, Maldives beat Sri Lanka 10-0, suggesting that Bhutan’s final match with Sri Lanka may be the more likely hope for some Bhutanese joy.