Thursday 12th March 2015
World Cup Asian Zone Round One First Leg
Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Bhutan begin their first ever World Cup campaign on Thursday with an away match against a Sri Lanka side ranked 36 places above them. Coming down from the high Himalayas, they Druk XI will have to adapt not only to a higher ranked opposition, but also to being rather lower at sea level in Sri Lanka’s palm-fringed coastal capital. It will also likely be rather warmer than they are used to.
In a bid to acclimatise, Bhutan have spent the build-up at a training camp in Thailand where temperatures have hit 38 degrees. “We have made good use of the time we had, spending a couple of weeks in Bangkok, that has really helped us to adapt to the weather and the heat,” Bhutan’s skipper Karma Shedrup Tshering (pictured below) said on YouTube. “We are expecting to win, but you never know in the game of football so we just go there, give our best,” added the 28-year-old midfielder.
In an attempt to make the national team a bit more competitive, the Bhutan Football Federation have begin paying a few of the players a monthly fee of around US$160, or 10,000 ngultrum, while the rest of the squad are either students or are holding down other jobs. There is one professional player, striker Chencho Gyeltshen, who currently plays in Thailand for Buriram United.
In a recent interview with the BBC World Service, the Football Federation President Dorji Ugen Tsechup said that Bhutan would be no pushovers. “Sri Lanka is a team that is not way, way beyond the quality level of football that is being played in Bhutan. It would depend on that particular day, how our boys perform, and we are hopeful.”
His positive attitude was matched by winger Kuenga Gyeltshen who told Bhutan’s Kuensel news website: “I cannot guarantee 100 per cent a win. But we’ll fight till the last minute.” While team captain Karma Shedrup Tshering was equally bullish, stating “The world ranking does not matter. It is just a number. It is not a reflection of our performance, but the [very low] frequency of matches that we have played.”
The odds are against it of course, having lost to Sri Lanka in all five of their previous meetings, and in only one of those did Bhutan manage to actually find the net themselves. Defeat is likely, but the optimism always endures.