Bhutan’s World Cup Odyssey Set for Kick Off

Russia2018

The draw for the opening round of Asian qualification for the 2018 World Cup has been made, accounting for the weakest twelve countries in the Asian Confederation, which of course includes our current lone Worst in the World; Bhutan.

The set of home and away fixtures see Bhutan pitted against Sri Lanka, a team ranked 37 places higher than them in the world rankings, sitting in 172nd place, or 36th in Asia compared to Bhutan’s 46th.  Of all the possible opponents at this stage (the best 6 of the twelve teams at this stage), only India are higher ranked than Sri Lanka so it’s fair to say that Bhutan haven’t been overly fortunate in the opponent they’ve been drawn against.

Asian qualification is doubling up as Asian Cup qualification this time around, which sounds odd considering the last Asian Cup Finals has only just finished in Australia, but it’s to prevent the past issues of meaningless qualifying rounds to find the 16 Asian Cup finalist and to include all Asian nations in that process; something that hasn’t been the case for the past few tournaments.

BhutanBadgeThoughts of reaching either the 2018 World Cup or the 2019 Asian Cup will be far from the minds of the Bhutanese though I imagine.  It’s all about respectability, and of course the opportunity to escape the foot of the FIFA rankings.  Should they avoid defeat in either of the two matches with Sri Lanka, we face the prospect of the team at the foot of the rankings having a points total above zero, as Anguilla would become the worst in the world with a couple of points to their name (until the summer at least, when those points would be expunged from the record).

But that’s all for the near future.  For now, Bhutan must organise themselves to face Sri Lanka, a team they have faced five times before without too much success, although the defeats haven’t all been too heavy, and as recently as 18 months ago Bhutan managed a couple of goals against Sri Lanka.

4th April 2006 AFC Challenge Cup Chittagong (Bangladesh) Lost 0-1
6th June 2008 SAFF Championship Colombo (Sri Lanka) Lost 0-2
6th December 2009 SAFF Championship Dhaka (Bangladesh) Lost 0-6
3rd December 2011  SAFF Championship New Delhi (India) Lost 0-3
6th September 2013 SAFF Championship Kathmandu (Nepal) Lost 2-5

The 2008 SAFF Championship encounter in the group stages of that tournament was actually a clash between the two top teams in that group, with Bhutan recording a win against Afghanistan and a draw with Bangladesh to reach the semi finals.  The might of India beat them at that stage, but only after extra time.  Heady days.

If there is to be a crumb of comfort for Bhutan it can surely be found in the fact that they have yet to suffer defeat or even to concede a goal when playing at home in the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimpu.  Incredibly this unlikely statistic for a team that is the worst in the world is true, but makes a little more sense when you realise that they have only played at home three times.  It is yet to be confirmed where these matches will take place, but a home tie in the second leg in an enticing prospect.

Home Record in Changlimithang Stadium, Thimpu:

30th June 2002 Friendly (The Other Final) Montserrat Won 4-0
23rd April 2003 AFC Cup Qualifier Guam Won 6-0
27th April 2003 AFC Cup Qualifier Mongolia Drew 0-0

The full set of fixtures for the AFC 2018 World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifying Round 1 are as follows:
(Ties to be played Thursday 12th March and Tuesday 17th March 2015)

India v. Nepal
Yemen v. Pakistan
Timor-Leste v. Mongolia
Cambodia v. Macau
Chinese Taipei v. Brunei Darussalam
Sri Lanka v. Bhutan

The winners will progress to Round 2 where they will be joined by the remaining 34 Asian nations to compete in eight groups of five.  The eight group winners and the four best runners-up will progress to the final qualifying round and also to the 2019 Asian Cup Finals.

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