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Football: India U-20 Women’s team arrives in Dhaka for SAFF U-20 Championship

Dhaka (Bangladesh), Feb 1 (IANS) The U-20 Indian women’s football team has reached Dhaka here for the inaugural SAFF U-20 Women’s Championship starting here on February 3.

The team was received at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, named after the widely respected Sufi saint, by a courteous bunch of Bangladesh Football Federation officials.

Barring a few curious onlookers not many took much notice when the India U-20 Women’s Team arrived on Wednesday evening here.

But all these hardly mattered to the Indian girls, who have come here with a mission. In the inaugural edition of the SAFF U-20 Championship 2023, India will kick off their campaign against Bhutan on Friday. All the matches of the tournament will be played at the Bir Sherestha Shaheed Shipahi Mostafa Kamal Stadium, Dhaka. After a four-team round-robin, the top two teams will play the final on February 9.

Midfielder Nitu Linda, who scored two goals each in the 2021 SAFF U-19 Women’s Championship in Bangladesh and the 2022 SAFF U-18 Women’s Championship in Jamshedpur, is confident of the team winning another SAFF title.

“It’s time for the battle ahead and we all are ready to get started. We have really worked hard in these two weeks and are in great shape now. We know we have to win and dish out good performances in the matches ahead,” she said.

Shilky Devi, one of the squad’s most senior players, said she was looking forward to erasing the disappointment of last year’s SAFF U-19 Championship in Bangladesh, where India lost by a goal to the hosts.

“We have arrived here and now it’s time for us to start afresh. We were all heartbroken when we last came here in December 2021, but this time, we will all be going home with the trophy. That’s what we are here for.

“We have been training under two coaches and we have learned different skills and strategies from them that will help us improve our games. It’s time to make them proud, too,” Shilky told shortly after arriving in Dhaka.

The Young Tigresses had been training hard in Chennai for the past two weeks and are determined to take the trophy home. The India U-20 team is a mix of old and new faces, which includes players like Tania Kanti from West Bengal, who is yet to make her National team debut and is travelling abroad for the first time.

“I am very excited because this is my first national team call-up and I have travelled abroad to represent my country. It’s an amazing feeling. I will try to do my best in every manner possible to make this tournament a memorable one for me, for the people of my country and my family,” she said.

Martina Thokchom, the skipper of the team, is determined to have a successful campaign in Bangladesh and come back with the trophy to India on Feb 10. “We are here now and we just want to go all out and win all the games and emerge champions. Winning and gaining experience will be the most important aspects of this tour,” Martina said.

The 23-member squad:

Goalkeepers: Monalisha Devi, Anshika, Anjali;
Defenders: Shilky Devi, Astam Oraon, Kajal, Shubhangi Singh, Purnima Kumari, Varshika, Gladys; Midfielders: Martina Thokchom, Kajol Dsouza, Babina Devi, Nitu Linda, Tania Kanti, Shailja; Forwards: Lynda Kom, Apurna Narzary, Sunita Munda, Sumati Kumari, Neha, Sonali Soren, Anita Kumari.

India’s fixtures:

Feb 3: India vs Bhutan, 2:30 pm IST

Feb 5: Bangladesh vs India, 6:30 pm IST

Feb 7: India vs Nepal, 2:30pm IST.