Lowly Asian nations on verge of World Cup pay windfall
By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Soccer's worst international side Bhutan are on the verge of a significant pay windfall if they can reach the second round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday.
Bhutan, ranked 209th and last by FIFA, will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their tie with Sri Lanka after recording only their fourth ever win and first at this level in Thursday's match in Colombo.
Last week's fixture was also the Himalayan nation's first international match in over a year, with the local football association opting to invest their FIFA funding into youth development rather than sending team to play overseas.
They had never previously entered a World Cup qualifying campaign since joining FIFA in 2000 but did so this year with the world governing body offering a "special additional support" of $300,000 to any member participating in the early stages.
More money could be headed their way with a draw or win at their picturesque Changlimithang Stadium in the country's capital Thimphu on Tuesday which would ensure at least eight more qualifying matches - a vital source of income for soccer's lowly outsiders.
Last year, the Asian Football Confederation voted to revamp their process to reach the World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup, combining the early qualifying stages of the two tournaments.
That means the six winners of Tuesday's ties between Asia's worst 12, will be drawn in one of the eight groups of five in the second round, where the region's heavyweights, such as Asian champions Australia and perennial World Cup qualifiers South Korea and Japan, enter the fold.
Even if Bhutan, once beaten 20-0 by Kuwait in 2000, or Sri Lanka finish last in that second round group, they could qualify for the third round of Asian Cup qualifying, where 24 teams are drawn into another group phase guaranteeing more fixtures and more cash. Continued...