Thimphu: Tshering Dorji's first half strike was the difference as Bhutan beat Guam 1-0 in the first leg of their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification tie on Thursday.
Cheered on by the vocal 7,000 home crowd, Bhutan did not disappoint the fans after producing a gritty performance which mirrored their heroics when they made global headlines after defeating Sri Lanka in the 2015 Asian Qualifiers.
Their victory at home will give the Dragon Boys a slight edge over Guam as they aim to qualify for the next round for the second time in the country’s history when both sides meet in the return leg on Tuesday at the Guam National Stadium.
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Bhutan started the match on a lively note when Chhuma Dorji Lepcha’s overhead kick in the sixth minute was parried by an outstretched Guam goalkeeper Dallas Jeffrey Jaye.
Moments later, it was Guam who missed a great opportunity after being awarded an indirect free-kick in the penalty box.
It was Guam again who threatened Bhutan’s goalmouth in the 24th minute when Ian Mariano broke free inside the penalty box only to have his attempt blocked by the feet of Bhutan shotstopper Tshering Dendup.
Bhutan had their fair share of chances in the first half and were rewarded in the 35th minute when Tshering Dorji’s right-footed shot found the back of the net. It was a deserving goal after the lively Nima Wangdi had burst through the right flank to provide the assist.
The goal jolted Guam into action immediately, with Marcus Lopez almost scoring the equaliser only to be denied once again by the studs of Dendup.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Bhutan continued their momentum, as star player Chencho Gyeltshen continued to threaten on the left side while Dawa Tshering linked up well with right-back Wangdi.
They were almost rewarded in the 53rd minute when Bhutan captain Karma Shedrup Tshering collected a loose ball inside the penalty box before blasting his shot over the crossbar.
As Bhutan’s confidence grew, Guam were forced to defend and when they broke through on the counter attack, central defender Jigme Tshering Dorjee did his job bravely to clear threatening crosses.
The away side pressed late in the game but the final chance fell to Bhutan substitute Kinga Rabgay, whose cross almost caught the Guam stopper by surprise in the 86th minute.
Bhutan held on for another historic victory under the floodlights of the Changlimithang Stadium as Guam aim to find a reply in the return leg.
Photos: Bhutan Football Federation
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