Bhutan celebrates after shocking win in World Cup qualifiers
THIMPHU, Bhutan (AP) Soccer fans in tiny Bhutan celebrated Wednesday after the country's national team - ranked last in the world - pulled off an unlikely win over Sri Lanka to advance to the next round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup alongside Asian giants like Japan and South Korea.
Bhutan, ranked 209th by FIFA, defeated the Sri Lankans 2-1 in the capital Thimphu on Tuesday for an aggregate 3-1 victory and a pass to the second round of qualifying beginning in June.
Chencho Gyeltshen, known as the ''Ronaldo of Bhutan'' in the landlocked Himalayan kingdom, scored both goals in the home victory.
''We're totally overwhelmed with the win,'' Needrup Zangpo, a former editor of Bhutan Observer, told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. ''The win has helped the Bhutanese people to come together and share the moment of happiness. The result is still being celebrated, talked about in offices and on social media.''
Changlimithang National Stadium, a multi-purpose sports facility in the heart of the city, was filled to its capacity of 30,000 for Tuesday's match, with hundreds more waiting outside trying to get in.
Hopes were high in the country after Bhutan surprised Sri Lanka in the first leg last week in Colombo on a goal from Tshering Dorji. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay gave residents the afternoon off work to watch Tuesday's match and the celebrations continued in the city's markets late into the night.
''The win is very significant because it will change the face of our football forever,'' Zangpo said. ''Football has been picking up, but since we do not have professional players, it's not easy to bring the whole nation together.''
Bhutan Football Federation chief Ugen Tsechup Dorji said the team's low ranking was due to lack of matches against other sides and he believed it can build on its success to promote soccer further in the nation of 800,000, where archery is the national sport.
''Even if we play 10 matches and lose all of them our ranking will still go up as there are points for the losing team. But given our limited resources we can't play much international matches,'' he was quoted as saying by The Bhutanese newspaper.
The Bhutan team's preparations for the World Cup qualifiers included one month of training in the Thai capital of Bangkok to get used to the heat in Sri Lanka.