Bhutan Women’s National Team Optimistic About AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.
A new journey for women’s football in the country…
The Bhutan Senior Team will travel to Uzbekistan for the sixth edition of the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the quadrennial international football competition organized by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to determine which women’s national teams from Asia qualify for the Olympic football tournament 2024 Paris.
This year, Women’s Football in Bhutan has embarked on many preambles in the AFC competitions, notably, the first entrance of Bhutan in the U20 Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in Jordan. The Dragon Girls displayed positive footballing by registering the first win against the Mongolia Women’s team in their final match of the qualifiers and winning lots of praise for their performance. And now, the senior women’s team is going to participate in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, an exciting feat for a tiny country comprising just over 7 million people with only a handful of women committed to the field of football mainly due to cultural and traditional drawbacks. However, the football culture in the country is on the rise with lots of improvements in diverse fields and even in women’s football.
The Senior Women’s Team of Bhutan’s recent international tournament was the SAFF Women’s Championship held in Nepal last year. Bhutan went on to progress to the knockout stage after their win over Sri Lanka. However, the run was cut short in the semi-finals by Bangladesh with Bhutan conceding 8 goals.
The selections of the Senior Women’s National Team started right after the Bhutan Women’s League. A total of 32 players were selected from the clubs of the highest women’s league in the country. The players were shortlisted based on their performance in the league and were put through a lot of physical training and mental preparedness by the officials of the women’s team.
After a month of intense training the final 22 players for the national squad were selected by the selection committee. When asked about the selection of the players the head coach of the senior women’s national team, Mrs. Kung Suk Hong stated that the players are from diverse backgrounds, some players work in an institution, some are sports instructors and most of them are students, who played in the national league last season, who are very enthusiastic about football and most of them are young and energetic.
We selected the players based on the fitness, touches, and the understanding of the game. Most of the players had international experiences and were already playing in the national team however, the selection team selected a few players who didn’t play for the national squad before.
Apart from the same names in the squad of previous years four new players joined the squad these year. Ms. Sonam Lhamo the versatile midfielder who begged the most valuable player in last seasons Women’s National League is also selected in this year’s squad. She stated that it’s been a long time since she has played the international matches. She last played in an international match during SAFF U19 against Bangladesh in the year 2021 and she felt privileged once again to represent the nation on a bigger stage. She hopes to showcase her skills and her performance like she did during the league and she promises to give much more than what she has been doing.
On the contrary the captain of the Senior women’s team Ms. Pema stated that they are new in the sense that it is their first appearance for the Senior Team for a few but they all grew up at the Academy with some having been in football for some time now so in that sense, they are not really new to the team per se. We played together for years. What differentiates the youth teams from the Senior is the mental strength and the responsibility of the players. These players will need to play for the younger generations. So, my role as the captain is to help strengthen their mentality and understand the responsibility of playing for the Senior team.
Along with captaining the team, she is also the head of women’s football and putting on the hat of the Women’s Football head, she stated that the competition is a great opportunity for the girls to understand and further motivate themselves in terms of their player development. “We are playing the Champions of Central (Uzbekistan) and West Asia (Jordan), and hence will get a better understanding of their playing style and level. It is different watching their matches on tv or YouTube and playing them. This will be the first time we will be playing teams ranked in the top 100, in fact even in the top 50 (Uzbekistan 49th). It will be a very difficult job and we will have to be mentally strong, a trait we want our players to develop at a very early age.” She also stated that she is excited about playing with a team from West, Central and East Asia. “I have been playing football ever since I can remember but never played against teams from these regions. It has only been with south Asian countries. I am excited to learn, be challenged and take the learnings from this tournament to future games.”
The head coach of the Bhutan Senior Women’s National Team Head coach Mrs. Hong also stated that the girls are well prepared for the tournament and the team has worked on position, tactics and defense. She hopes to win at least 2 games and draw one in the tournament.
Bhutan Senior Women’s National Team will travel to Uzbekistan on the 24th of March 2023 and play a friendly match with a local club in Uzbekistan before the actual tournament kicks off. Bhutan sits with the likes of Uzbekistan, Jordan and Timor-Leste. Bhutan will face Uzbekistan in the opening match of Group A on the 5th of April 2023, followed by Jordan on the 8th of April and round off against Timor-Leste on the 11th of April, 2023.