Bhutan history bound | The Daily Star
12:01 AM, January 08, 2003 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:51 PM, June 09, 2013

Bhutan history bound

Bhutan is about to make history when the footballers of the tiny Himalayan country set their feet on the greens of the Bangabandhu National Stadium to feature in their first match of the third South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship.

That match against Maldives will mark their first ever appearance in international football.

"We are eagerly waiting for January 11 when we play against Maldives in our maiden international match after getting the FIFA recognition. The whole six million people back home are eagerly waiting for that moment," said Sonm Novru, manager of Bhutan yesterday after his team's practice.

Bhutan however played in the SAFF Games football in 1987 when the competition was not recognised by Asian Football Confederation (AFC). But when the regional tournament was graded by AFC in 1989, Bhutan could not take part in the meet for not having an FIFA membership.

They indeed got their much expected FIFA full membership in July 2000, but the country had to wait till now as no SAFF Championship was held since 1999.

The 24-member Bhutan team braved over 800-km journey by bus to reach Dhaka late on Monday night to make their historic debut.

Novru, the 38-year-old former Bhutan captain who led his country in the third SAF Games in Kolkata in 1987, admitted he was not expecting any surprise from his players.

"We've started seeing international football matches through satellite television from only two years back. Before that there was no cable TV in Bhutan. So, you can well understand how much we're lagging behind.

"But what I can tell you is that we are determined to show our mettle through this SAFF tournament," said Novru.

He revealed that eight of the nineteen players in this team are from the under-19 development programme being run under the FIFA goal project from last year.

"We have limited human resource for the game in Bhutan. There are only 22 clubs in the whole country, out of which 21 are based in the capital Thimpu. The other clubs we have are in Phuentsholing, about 160-km away from Thimpu. We can scout talents from these clubs only.

"However, we have taken some development programmes for the under-14 and under 19 booters. But it will take some time before we start to reap benefit," said Novru, who is currently working as a professional coach with the Bhutan Football Federation.

An AFC-sponsored Korean coach had been working with Bhutan for the last two years. But they had to hire a Dutch coach, Henk Walk, last October after the Korean died of stomach cancer in July.

Asked about his best players, Novru mentioned the name of captain Pasang Tshering and forward Wange Dorji.

"Pasang is our libero and he is an exciting player at the back. And Dorji is also a good attacking player who can score from difficult chances," he said.

Though archery is the national game of Bhutan, but football has always been the most popular sports in Bhutan. The Bhutanese have however started to take extra interest in cricket.

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