High altitude lifts Bhutan`s World Cup hopes

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - ( Source : Zee News)

T he re­mote, moun­tain­ous king­dom has been flung into a group in­clud­ing pow­er­house China and Gulf cham­pi­ons Qatar af­ter de­fy­ing the odds to reach Asia`s sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing round.

Bhutan were rock-bot­tom in the world rank­ings be­fore they shocked Sri Lanka to go through. Play­ers in­clude teach­ers and stu­dents, and their cap­tain is an air­line pi­lot.

But na­tional fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Ugen Tsechup said the high altitude of the cap­i­tal Thim­phu, which sits at al­most 8,000 feet (2,600 me­tres), gave Bhutan a fight­ing chance.

“The boys are pretty ex­cited,” Tsechup, wear­ing Bhutan`s dis­tinc­tive na­tional dress, told AFP at the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion congress in Bahrain.

“They know ex­actly where they stand. Yet at least the home games, be­cause of the altitude, we some ad­van­tage against teams from Qatar, from Mal­dives and from Hong Kong, be­cause they are at sea-level.

“With China not so much be­cause they have high altitude ar­eas to train.

“So the boys are pretty ex­cited for the home games, the peo­ple are pretty ex­cited, the fans are ex­cited -- the whole coun­try ac­tu­ally is look­ing for­ward to the four games which are go­ing to be played at home.”

Reach­ing this stage is un­prece­dented for the “Land of the Thun­der Dragon” who start in five-team Group D away against Hong Kong on June 11, be­fore host­ing China five days later.

Their best op­por­tu­nity may come in Oc­to­ber, when they host Mal­dives and Hong Kong at Thim­phu`s Changlim­ithang Sta­dium. They round off the group at home to Qatar in Novem­ber. Tsechup said the na­tional team`s progress had al­ready had a stark ef­fect on Bhutanese foot­ball, with league at­ten­dances rock­et­ing and TV rights bring­ing some much­needed fund­ing.

“Qual­i­fy­ing for the sec­ond leg of the World Cup qual­i­fiers has given an in­put into the league it­self be­cause every­body`s now com­ing out to watch the games,” he said.

“Be­fore you prob­a­bly had around 500, 600 spec­ta­tors. Now you have at least 1,500 to 2,000 com­ing to watch. So peo­ple are get­ting in­ter­ested.”

“Along with this ex­po­sure, this qual­i­fi­ca­tion also brings in a lit­tle bit of fi­nances -- the TV rights, which Bhutan has never been ex­posed to,” he added.

“Even if it`s not much, for Bhutan it`s a huge amount. And it will go a re­ally long way in de­vel­op­ing foot­ball fur­ther in Bhutan.”

Bhutan are tes­ta­ment to the im­por­tance of grass-roots foot­ball. Since be­com­ing fed­er­a­tion chief five years ago, Tsechup said he has not fo­cused on the na­tional team at all.

In­stead he con­cen­trated on im­prov­ing in­fras­truc- ture and train­ing. Ja­pan`s No­rio Tsuk­i­tate has taken over coach­ing du­ties from Chokey Nima ahead of the up­com­ing games.

“We were play­ing grounds that were un­du­lat­ing, with rough patches. If you tried to pass right, it would prob­a­bly go left. So it didn`t give the con­fi­dence to the play­ers to un­der­stand their level of skill,” Tsechup said.

The ground­work paid off when the na­tional team, in­clud­ing the “Ron­aldo of Bhutan”, Chen­cho Gyelt­shen, was formed in Jan­uary and af­ter only weeks to­gether beat Sri Lanka over two legs.

Bhutan will not now be taken lightly, es­pe­cially af­ter their rank­ing rose from 209th and last to 163 -- above Malaysia and Hong Kong, and one place be­hind Sin­ga­pore.

They re­main mod­est but hope­ful that there could be more to come from the Bud­dhist coun­try of just 750,000, bet­ter known for its Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness In­dex and archery.

“We`re play­ing Mal­dives which is a much bet­ter team than Bhutan, we play Hong Kong which is much bet­ter and of course Qatar and China, we`re not in their league at all,” Tsechup said.

“But we`re op­ti­mistic. We say we never know, if the gods are smil­ing on us on that par­tic­u­lar day who knows what could hap­pen on that ground. We never give up.”

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