Blue Tigers, India's national football team, and the Bhutanese Dragon boys will play a friendly match at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu today at 3.30 PM IST.
The 20-man Indian squad reached the capital after a 13-day pre-season training camp in Delhi.
Initially, team India was planning a series of friendly matches with Major League Soccer (MLS) and the United Soccer Leagues (USL) in the US but dropped the idea because of visa issues. Bhutan Football Federation agreed to host the team.
India ranks 152 in FIFA ranking and All India Football Federation is organising friendly matches to improve their ranking ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup Qualification next year.
India will play a friendly match with Bhutan. It will go on to play another with Puerto Rico.
Meantime, the match is also an opportunity for the young Bhutanese team to practice before they take on Bangladesh at the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers in September. Bhutan Football Federation selected the team in June based on the players’ performance in a local league. Many of the members have played for the country before.
“The friendly match is an opportunity for young players like us to get much-needed exposure,” said Kencho Tobgay, one of the country’s best strikers.
If the World Cup qualifiers are any pointers, Bhutan’s performance has been improving.
“We need more of such friendlies to keep improving,” says the 25-year old Tobgay who is raring to go. Bhutan ranked 173 in the FIFA World Cup ranking after it won the World Cup qualifier against Sri Lanka last year but dropped to 166 after two consecutive losses in the second World Cup qualifier round.
“This is my first time playing for the national team with senior players who I look up to,” Mikyo Dorji told local media. He is a student at St. Joseph’s School in Darjeeling and has travelled home to play for the country. “I will give my 100 per cent,” says Dorji.
On the other hand, coach of the Indian national team, Stephen Constantine, considers the game to be crucial as any other official match. “It is not just an exposure game,” he said, adding that whenever you play for the national team, it does not matter if it’s a friendly, AFC or World Cup qualifier. “You put on your country’s jersey, it’s an important match,” said the Indian coach.
Earlier, the coach had also raised concerns regarding acclimatisation and playing at high altitude.
The 20-member squad arrived in the country last Monday and is training to acclimatise. “I don’t think weather in Bhutan should be a concern anymore,” said coach Constantine.