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Bhutan One Step Closer To World Cup After Shocking Victory Over Sri Lanka

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Bhutan One Step Closer To World Cup After Shocking Victory Over Sri Lanka

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Bhutan One Step Closer To World Cup After Shocking Victory Over Sri Lanka

Bhutan One Step Closer To World Cup After Shocking Victory Over Sri Lanka

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Bhutan, the world's lowest-ranked soccer team, shocked the world on Tuesday when they beat Sri Lanka in a 2018 World Cup qualifier. NPR's Melissa Block speaks with Bhutanese journalist Namgay Zam in Thimphu, Bhutan, about the win.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

World Cup spoiler alert - for all of you keeping tabs on the critical Bhutan-Sri Lanka matchup, we're here to report that Bhutan, the world's lowest ranked soccer team - 209th of 209 countries - triumphed in its World Cup qualifier at home today, beating Sri Lanka 2 to 1. And so along with its victory in Sri Lanka last week, Bhutan advances to the next round. Now, the World Cup isn't until 2018, but the tiny Himalayan kingdom is in full ecstasy mode, reveling in the thrill of victory in its first ever World Cup qualifier. And following the action in the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu is Namgay Zam. She's a Bhutanese journalist and soccer fan. Welcome to the program.

NAMGAY ZAM: Thank you, Melissa. I'm excited to be talking to you.

BLOCK: Excitement, it sounds like a really exciting finish to this game. It was tied 1 to 1 going into the final minutes and then the game-winning goal at the very end of the match. What was the scene at the stadium when that happened?

ZAM: You know, everyone jumped (laughter)...

BLOCK: Yeah?

ZAM: And we were hugging and strangers were hugging each other and we were knocking things over. But I don't think people cared about elbows and little kicks on the backs when you were jumping because everybody was just reveling in that moment. And it was just - I think it was like a dream come true for all of us - the 30,000-plus people who were at the stadium and also for the players themselves on the field.

BLOCK: How big a deal is this for Bhutan, a tiny country? When you talk to your friends, is everybody paying attention to this right now?

ZAM: Everyone is paying attention to it. It's like the oldest people in Bhutan to, like, the youngest people. My grandmother's 88, and she was home watching the live broadcast on the national channel. It is as big as it gets because the national squad at the moment is made up of semi-permanent members, so basically they have other jobs. The captain is a pilot. He plays football in his free time. And it's more like a hobby, so it really professionalizes the sport now. And I can imagine a lot of young Bhutanese who would want to grow up and become soccer players.

BLOCK: Do you know some of the players on this team, Namgay?

ZAM: On the national team, yes. The captain is a good friend of mine, and I know the manager and the coach and - yeah - it's a cliche, Bhutan is small and Thimpu is smaller, so, you know, I always tell people it's not six degrees of separation here. It's just two degrees or perhaps just a degree of separation, so yeah.

BLOCK: So the good news is they win, but of course, now with their advancing, the competition is going to get steeper, right?

ZAM: Yes. It's going to be intense, and I think the boys' expecting it. They were really stressed out in the last two days since they returned from Sri Lanka before the match today. And I think they'll have to work on their coping mechanisms with stress, but maybe just saving the stress for another day. And today they're just enjoying themselves and they're really happy and thrilled because I think this is beyond their wildest dreams.

BLOCK: Well, Namgay, congratulations for this big Bhutanese win, and thanks for talking with us.

ZAM: Thank you for having me talk to you. It's great to be talking about Bhutan and our victory.

BLOCK: Namgay Zam is a Bhutanese journalist and a big soccer fan - again, the news that Bhutan has beaten Sri Lanka in its first World Cup qualifier ever and will advance to the next round.

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