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Bhutan, World's Lowest-Ranked Soccer Team, Advances In World Cup Qualifying

Bhutanese football player Chencho Gyeltshen controls the ball in a March 5 match against Sri Lanka. The striker hit two goals Tuesday to lead Bhutan past Sri Lanka and into the next phase of World Cup Qualifying.

They started the game ranked 209th out of 209 national teams — but Bhutan will progress to the second round of World Cup Qualifying after beating Sri Lanka in consecutive matches. The 2-1 victory comes less than a week after its historic first win in a World Cup qualifier.

The win puts Bhutan into the Asian group stage, where they'll gain more international experience as they play for a chance to move another step closer to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Going into the home-and-home matchups against Bhutan, Sri Lanka's team was 174th in the FIFA world rankings. It lost in Colombo earlier this month, 1-0.

Both of Bhutan's goals today were scored by Chencho Gyeltshen, a 24-year-old who is known as both CG7 and "the Ronaldo of Bhutan." The team called the win "a historic moment to remember" that came in Changlimithang Stadium — or "the Wembley of Bhutan."

Gyeltshen scored one goal early, lifting the ball past Sri Lanka's onrushing goalie and into the far corner of the net. With the score tied 1-1 late in the game, Gyeltshen drove the home crowd to roars of approval when he dribbled away from the goal box in the left corner of the penalty area — only to spin and lash a laser shot that eluded two defenders and the goalkeeper on its way into the near corner.

The victory promises to lift Bhutan from the rock-bottom of FIFA's ratings, where it was mired for all of last year.

Bhutan's head coach Chokey Nima told Bhutanese news agency BBS Monday that his team faced long odds. "But, we are going to win," he added.

Tuesday's match was played in Bhutan's capital of Thimpu. If your geography is rusty, we'll remind you that Bhutan is the small landlocked kingdom at the eastern end of the Himalayas. In addition to mountains, it's surrounded by other giants: China to the north and India to the south.

It remains to be seen how many spots Bhutan might jump on the strength of two wins — in the section of FIFA rankings they occupy, far outside the elite level, even one victory can make a huge difference.

The current No. 208, Anguilla, should prepare itself to be dubbed the world's worst team when new rankings are released in April, unless Anguilla can win in its own qualifying round later this month.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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