Happy New Year!
2015 was full of some pretty bad news when it came to football, indeed, sports governance in general. But just as FIFA was beginning to implode under the weight of accusation, qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia began in Asia, just eight months after Germany’s World Cup triumph in Rio.
The twelve worst ranked teams were drawn into six, two legged matches. Clearly the pick of the round (at least, the pick for someone who has written a book about international underdogs) was Sri Lanka v Bhutan.
I had briefly considered trying to get to see Timor Leste v Mongolia, given that it was both one of the most unusual ties in world football and the fact that it would technically be the first to kick off.
But instead I headed off to Sri Lanka, and then to the isolated and little known mountain kingdom of Bhutan, for what turned out to be some of the most memorable matches I’d ever seen.
Bhutan were ranked dead last by FIFA and were playing their first ever World Cup match. This was a country that once held the world record for the biggest ever defeat (20-0, v Kuwait) until Australia beat American Samoa 31-0 in 2001. This was also a country that had a policy of isolationism that saw TV banned until the late 1990s.
It was a pretty special few weeks, and I recorded the trip for the BBC World Service’s World Football show.