Where is Bhutan in the FIFA World Cup?
03 Dec 2022 (Time: period between the end of Group Stage of 2022 FIFA World Cup and start of Knockout stage). You would be forgiven for mistaking that Bhutan’s national sport is not archery but soccer. In this mountainous land, where it is hard to find flat piece of land, you find football pitches all over the country – every school has it, every town and in the capital, same locality has many – now coming in form of artificial turfs. You would make the same conclusion, when you find students that have ongoing annual examinations glued to TV showing the unusually timed World Cup 2022. But where does Bhutan lie in the grand scheme of all that is soccer World Cup?
The first ever attempt of Bhutan to qualify for FIFA World Cup was in 2015, when Bhutan entered the qualifiers for the 2018 edition. In the first round of the AFC Asian Qualifiers, then the bottom most ranked Bhutan was matched against Sri Lanka. The higher ranked Sri Lankans and their coach dismissed Bhutan declaring the match to be a ‘bye’. So, when Bhutan defeated them in their own home ground, they considered it a shock result and fluke! In the second match – Bhutan’s home match in Thimphu – Bhutan left no doubts in the minds of Sri Lankans with 2 – 1 win, qualifying into the second round with 3-1 aggregate victory. It was worthy of first ever wave done by Bhutanese fans in home Changlimithang stadium.
After the win over the Sri Lanka, Bhutan went into 2nd stage of the AFC qualifiers in group with China, Qatar, Hongkong and Maldives. Bhutan didn’t win any of the matches in this stage often losing with large margin. The best result was 0-1 loss to Hongkong on the pitch. But, off the pitch, the best result was the jump of 46 places from 209th to 163rd FIFA rank at once, and subsequently to 156th. This was leapfrogging over then 173rd placed Sri Lankan team – that was originally 36 places above Bhutan.
For this Qatar Edition of 2022 World Cup, Bhutan joined 46 nations of Asia in 2019 to compete for 4.5 places given to Asian Football Confederation. The first round that Bhutan participated in consisted of 12 nations ranked between 35 – 46 in two round home-away matches. The 6 aggregate winners joined 34 higher ranked teams that had received bye into the second round. In the second round, 8 groups of 5 teams each played. Th top ranked teams from each group progressed to third round. The 3rd round had two groups of 6 teams each, top 2 teams from each group qualified for the World Cup, while the 3rd ranked team progressed to additional fourth round, the winner of which went to play intercontinental play off.
Presently, 3 of the 5 teams from this AFC qualifiers have progressed into knockout round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup. Bhutan began 2022 World Cup campaign in 2019 positively as Bhutan won the first match of the first round against Guam in Thimphu with 1-0 score. In the return leg, Bhutan lost to Guam with higher margin of 0-5, with Guam winning the qualification into the 2nd round with 5-1 aggregate. Guam was then ranked 193rd during the match. Bhutan was then 186th (presently Bhutan is at 185) out of 211 FIFA ranks.
Had the world known that higher ranked Bhutan had been knocked out by lower ranked Guam during the build up to the present World Cup, perhaps they would talk less of Belgium and Germany being shown out of group stage itself. Or if they were reminded about the time in 2015 that had been tweeted by then FIFA President to be “wonderful, historic moment” of Bhutan eliminating country ranked 36 places above them.
The door may be quite far, but Bhutan is knocking. World Cup finals of the future, here comes the Dragon country.
Article by Original Bhutan