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Football: One team led the Bhutanese national football squad into their first continental football scene in 2000, the other delivered the nation biggest win and qualified for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The meeting of the titans

Football: One team led the Bhutanese national football squad into their first continental football scene in 2000, the other delivered the nation biggest win and qualified for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The two trailblazers will take on each other at the Changlimithang stadium tomorrow.

Titled “Legends VS Bhutan”, the friendly exhibition match will celebrate over five decades of football in the country. The match will officially open the 2016 Thimphu League.

Prominent players such as Bhutan Football Federation’s (BFF) technical director, Chokey Nima, Dinesh Chhetri, Jigme Singay, Pushpalal Sharma, BFF’s general secretary, Ugyen Wangchhuk, Urgan Lama from Kalimpong, the then skipper of the national squad (1979), and many more, will be seen in action against the young Bhutanese national team.

Chokey Nima, the man who delivered the nation’s first historic win at a World Cup qualifier in March last year, said that the initiative was good in terms of keeping the ex-national players involved in the federation’s activities, which will help promote and develop the sport.

“Football doesn’t end when you have retired and stopped playing. Football is a life-long journey,” said Chokey Nima. “It’s a good opportunity for both the generations to socialise and share experiences from each other and see how far football has come over the years.”

Chokey Nima, who used to play as the national team’s defender, represented the country in several international and national tournaments. Chokey Nima had been a key player when Bhutan faced Kuwait in the AFC Cup qualifications in 2000, the country’s maiden foray into the continental football scene.

Thinking back on his career as one of the few footballers of the country then, Chokey Nima said that football in the country has come a long way. “The players today are technically and tactically sound. They have been nurtured and groomed from a very early age in the game unlike in our days,” he said.

When Brazil and Germany were competing for the World Cup in Yokohama, Japan in 2002, another FIFA-sanctioned game took place here at the Changlimithang stadium. The two lowest FIFA ranked countries – Bhutan (202) and Montserrat (203) – competed against each other.

It was the fateful day, Dinesh Chhetri remembers. The midfielder scored a goal in the 76th minute, the third from the Bhutanese side. “That was a historical moment for us. It still is for me,” he said. “The game between the current national team and the former team will be another historical moment for the country’s footballing account.”

More than a game of football, Dinesh Chhetri expects to draw the same level of excitement from the players and audiences alike who will come to witness the game on Sunday. “The level of the game have improved a lot over the years,” he said. “It will be a game of fitness. No matter who wins or loses, we will play to the best of our ability and put up a good show.”

As a lucky charm, Dinesh Chhetri will be donning his regular white, red and blue bandana during the game. That, he said, is to cover his famous hairlessness on his northern spears.

From the current squad, Karun Gurung, who just got back after the final game of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Maldives, said that playing against the ex-national players is an honour in itself.

“They are the true heroes of the country and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to play against the best,” said Karun Gurung.

Karun Gurung is hopeful that his young teammates will learn a lot from the experience of the players from the yesteryears. “I’m very much aware of the damage they will do if we’re to go there without any strategy to play,” he said. “We’ve our plans to play against the best of the best.”

The match will kick-off at 3pm at the Changlimithang stadium tomorrow.

Younten Tshedup 

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