Under-20 girls looking to regain dominance
Having narrowly missed out on the SAFF U-18 Women's Championship title in March last year, Bangladesh, regional powerhouses in women's football, have the immediate opportunity to taste success as they begin the SAFF U-20 Women's Championship campaign at home, taking on Nepal on the opening day today.
The match will get underway at the Birshreshtha Shaheed Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Kamalapur at 7:00pm after India and Bhutan, the two other teams in the four-team championship, square off at the same venue at 3:00pm.
The four teams will first play in a round-robin stage before the top two teams advance to the final, slated for February 9.
Bangladesh have dominated women's age-group football alongside India in the South Asian region since SAFF introduced age-group events in 2017. In the past four years, SAFF has staged seven championships for girls from the U-15 to U-20 level. Bangladesh have won three titles while finishing second on four occasions.
They had to settle for second place in the SAFF U-18 Women's Championship last year owing to an inferior goal difference against eventual champions India. The year before, Bangladesh won the title by beating India at home. This event will be an opportunity for Golam Rabbani Choton's charges to get their success story back on track.
"The SAFF age-group events started with a U-15 tournaments in 2017 and we emerged champions. We have played in each of the finals of each age-group tournament since. Our target will be to continue that trend," Choton said at a pre-event press conference yesterday.
Bangladesh's maiden title at the senior level came in September last year, when they beat Nepal in the final of the SAFF Women's Championship in Kathmandu, and will provide extra motivation to this group of players, quite a few of whom have already played at senior level. The recently-concluded domestic women's football league will help keep the players in form, Choton believes.
"The league finished on December 31, and training camp began the next day. Our focus, apart from working on technical and tactical aspects, was to maintain physical and mental fitness," Choton said, adding that this event would go towards preparations for the AFC U-20 Championship Qualification campaign, which will begin in March.
Bangladesh captain Shamsunnahar said she wanted to win the title to banish the haunting memories of near misses. "Bangladesh finished as runners-up twice in age-group SAFF events while I was playing. Maybe next time I won't be eligible to play at the age-group level. So I want to win this title," the striker told media.
Nepal coach yam Prasad Gurung and captain Preeti Rai expressed a determination to put up a good fight in the tournament.