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.
Brunei, ranked 198th by FIFA, are another of Asia’s famed non-players eyeing a fuller fixture list.
The tiny former British protectorate of about 400,000 nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, has played only 12 international matches in the last six years.
But under the guidance of Mike Wong, the first Singaporean to coach a foreign international team, they secured a 1-0 win in Taiwan on Thursday.
That was their first victory in a World Cup fixture after 12 losses and the goal, scored by Adi Said, was their first away from home in over 30 years of qualifiers for soccer’s showpiece.
East Timor’s Chiquito Filipe do Carmo had the honor of scoring the opening goal of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign when he netted against Mongolia on Thursday, the first of what is expected to be over 800 matches to determine who will join hosts Russia at the finals.
The striker’s effort helped East Timor to a 4-1 win leaving the Mongolians with it all to do on Tuesday. Also eyeing a second leg overhaul at home are Pakistan, who trail Yemen 3-1.
India take a 2-0 lead to Nepal, while Cambodia head to the gambling enclave of Macau with a healthier 3-0 advantage.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty