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In pursuit of happiness, Bhutan play for love of game

India’s national team is playing a football match. You hear the David & Goliath analogy. Chances are India would be anointed David. At the JLN Stadium on Monday, however, India was the biblical Goliath, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the combatant David. Rohit Bhaskar reports.

sports Updated: Dec 06, 2011 00:01 IST
Rohit Bhaskar

India’s national team is playing a football match. You hear the David & Goliath analogy. Chances are India would be anointed David. At the JLN Stadium on Monday, however, India was the biblical Goliath, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the combatant David.

On this occasion, Goliath overpowered David, 5-0 at that. However, lost in the smokescreen around the hazy scoreline is the very reason why football is called the beautiful game — it’s a language everyone can speak.

Bhutan aren’t the best footballing nation, in fact they narrowly avoided being called the worst. Currently 198th in the 204-rank FIFA calendar, Bhutan have been placed lower.

Best of the worst: the big fight
In 2002, Bhutan, at 202, were the lowest ranked team in the world, one ahead of Caribbean nation Montserrat. Hours before a Ronaldo-inspired Brazil squared off against Germany in the World Cup final, the two bottom-placed teams in the world battled to avoid the embarrassing sobriquet, unofficial as it were, of the worst team in the world.

Two Dutch filmmakers Johan Kramer and Matthijs de Jongh, whose plans of filming the fortunes of their beloved Oranje came to naught when Holland failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, turned the match into a heartwarming documentary about the universal power of football — The Other Final.

Played in Thimpu, at the Changlimithang Stadium at an altitude of 2,250 metres above sea level, Bhutan did their best not to be crowned the worst, and in the end it paid off as they won 4-0 in front of 20,000 adoring fans including the crown prince and the full cabinet.

As Italian legend Roberto Baggio said: “In a time where it's all about commercialism this was an almost naive project that put love for the game first. It was able to show us that football is a language everyone can speak.”

Taking time, but getting there
The team has come a long way from then, relatively speaking. A professional football league is in place and the sport's popularity is on the up. As their Japanese coach Hiroaki Matsuyama put it: “Archery is the most popular sport in Bhutan, but football is fast catching up.”

On Monday, India’s wingers ran circles round their centre-backs, India’s defenders won every aerial duel against their strikers and India’s strikers left their goalkeeper punching the air.

Happy is where the heart is
As the Bhutanese players walked off the field, they were disappointed, no doubt, but in the laughs they shared with India players a sense of contentment seemed evident.

In a country where the most important score isn’t the number of goals or the runs scored, but rather the Gross National Happiness score could it be any other way?