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   June 27, 2002 | 1445 IST


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The other final, high in the Himalayas

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When Brazil play Germany on Sunday to decide who is soccer's number one team, the world's two lowliest national sides, Bhutan and Montserrat, will meet in "the other final" high in the Himalayas.

The match in Bhutan's capital Thimphu will take place hours before the World Cup final on the only football pitch in the mountain kingdom and is expected to attract up to 10,000 fans.

Not quite the 72,000 in Japan's Yokohama stadium and the 1.5 billion expected to watch Brazil-Germany on television, yet the Bhutan game will mark an important step in the soccer development of two countries struggling to find their feet in the sport.

Bhutan is the youngest member of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, and is currently ranked 202nd out of 203 in the world -- its first forays into international soccer included a 20-0 defeat by Kuwait in 1999.

Football has been played there for 70 years but there are only a handful of club sides and just that single pitch, making international improvement more than a little difficult.

But Bhutan's problems fade in comparison with those faced by Montserrat, an island in the Caribbean.

It joined FIFA in the mid-1990s but volcanic eruptions in 1996 rendered more than half the island uninhabitable and covered the only major pitch with ash.

Ranked 203rd in the world, Montserrat have just nine points in the latest rankings -- leaders France have 802.

The idea of "the other final" came from a Dutch documentary company KesselsKramer which, with partners in Japan and Italy, hopes to raise the profile of both countries.

"It is not about who wins or loses, but about the celebration of two countries which, despite obstacles, share a love of the beautiful game," KesselsKramer said.

"Both the event and film are strictly not-for-profit initiatives, solely for idealistic purposes."


The match will take place in the Changlimithang stadium and features a Montserrat side made up of players from the island plus British-based islanders.

Britain used to govern Montserrat and England's Football Association (FA) and FIFA have been instrumental in trying to restart soccer on the island.

Football is seen as a positive force for stabilising society after more than half the population were forced to move to other islands and Britain after the eruption of the Soufriere volcano.

A soccer complex is being built and is expected to be opened this month. The FA provided guidance on setting up clubs and leagues and also trained Montserrat's national team coach Paul Morris, an Englishman with the local police force.

The national league re-started in 2000 with five teams but there are still only about 150 amateur players in a population of 5,000.

"Montserrat is...a classic example of a country with a huge enthusiasm to learn, but suffering not only from a lack of funding for the game but the negative forces of nature as well," said Jane Bateman, the FA's head of international relations.

The FA this week agreed to supply a referee for the match in Bhutan, which is recognised by FIFA as an official international.


Students who went abroad from Bhutan after it opened its doors to the world in the mid-1960s brought back an interest in soccer and the country had a decent team for about 15 years until the mid-1980s.

Players, mostly from India, were given a permanent job in the civil service but lack of money has recently stunted development of the game.

World Cup co-hosts South Korea have been a major source of help with coach Byung Chan-khang helping the Bhutan side from late 2000 with two-month residential training camps. The Korean FA gave 600 pairs of football boots to the Bhutan FA this year.

There are about 900 amateur players in the kingdom and matches at the Changlimithang stadium can attract half the population of the capital Thimphu.

Preparations for the Bhutan-Montserrat match started last December and the Caribbean team arrived on Tuesday, plenty of time to acclimatise to the high altitude.

The winners of the game will receive a cup and then both teams will sit down to watch the real thing on television thousands of miles away -- mirroring the end of another World Cup tale told in Bhutan's first feature film.

After the tournament in France a lama turned film-maker, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, made "The Cup" which was submitted for the 1999 foreign language award at the Oscars.

The film is about soccer-mad Tibetan monks living in exile in India who are desperate to watch the 1998 France-Brazil final. After winning over a sceptical abbot they hire a satellite dish and watch the Paris final, which the hosts won 3-0.

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