Ngangom Bala Devi and Yumnam Kamala Devi are two strikers on India's women's national football team who command respect when spoken of by their Bangladeshi counterparts.
The reason why the names of these two prolific strikers is still fresh in Bangladesh's memory is because in their previous nine meetings with India, the women in red and green were thoroughly outclassed by the great pace and goalscoring abilities of both Bala and Kamala. The duo accounted for 18 of the 39 goals in total scored (Bala stuck 12 and Kamala scored 6) against Bangladesh, who mustered four in return.
In their last meeting during the Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers last November, 29-year-old Bala and 27-year-old Kamala struck four and two goals respectively, handing the women in red and green a massive 7-1 defeat. In light of that gargantuan loss, the pair's presence was almost palpable during a pre-tournament press conference on the eve of Bangladesh's departure for the 5th SAFF Women's Championship even though both Bala and Kamala were excluded from India's squad for this edition.
There might have been some controversy over the Bangladeshi players' ages but it is evident that even a few of the players, who are key features in the senior team, such as Maria Manda, Monica Chakma and Rupna Chakma, were born around 2003, one or two years before Bala and Kamala started representing India at age-level tournaments.
This time around, four-time champions India brought a comparatively young squad with an average age of below 22 in the absence of Bala and Kamala, who scored 36 and 41 goals in 43 and 61 international matches respectively.
Bangladesh coach Golam Rabbani Choton, forward Krishna Rani Sarker and goalkeeper Rupna Chakma all expressed their relief over the pair's exclusion, however, Krishna still believes that India will be a tough nut to crack.
“Despite the absence of Bala and Kamala, they have experienced players who are also good. We will try to stop those players. If we fight them equally, I think it is going to be a good match,” said Krishna.
“Bala and Kamala troubled us most during the Olympic Qualifiers, scoring six goals in total, so it is a relief that they are not with India's squad,” said Choton.
When the sides lock horns tomorrow, Bangladesh could seek inspiration from their spirited performances in the last three meetings with India, especially from the 0-0 draw in the last edition, where they lost the final 3-1 against the same opposition.