The Bangladesh women's football team will leave for Nepal today to take part in the SAFF Women's Championship with their eyes on the final of the fifth edition of the regional women's football extravaganza.
Over the previous four editions the girls in red and green reached the final just once in 2016, when the youthful side fell to a 3-1 defeat to regional powerhouses India, who have won all four previous editions of the championship.
Three years since the last edition, those young girls are now all grown up and have played in a few international tournaments at the U-18 and U-19 levels and the Olympic Qualifiers while a few others have joined their senior teammates after impressing in a couple of international age-group tournaments.
These girls have been playing together for the past two-and-a-half years. More importantly, they have been training round the year and playing among themselves while also participating in international tournaments.
Having played the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers-2, nine players like Maria Manda, Monika Chakma, Akhi Khatun and Tahura Khaun have joined senior players like Masura Parvin, Mishrat Jahan Moushumi, Krishna Rani Sarkar, Sirat Jahan Swapna, Sanjida Akhter, Marzia, Sabina Khatun, who were part of the Bangladesh squad that became runners-up in 2016.
"We have been training round the year. Even the senior players went to Myanmar along with the U-16 women's team during the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers-2 because we kept them in training for the SAFF Championship.
"This group of girls became champions in the SAFF U-18 Women's Championship while playing in the AFC U-19 Women's Championship Qualifiers and Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers. So, the preparation is good. We first want to ensure the semifinal berth and then try our best to reach the final," coach Golam Rabbani Choton told reporters at a press conference at the BFF House yesterday.
Ensuring a place in the final is not going to be an easy task for Bangladesh, who were pitted against Nepal and Bhutan in Group A. That path is further complicated by the fact that the girls may have to face India in the semifinal if they fail to emerge as champions in their group by defeating three-time finalists and hosts Nepal, who recently beat India in a tournament.
"We certainly have plans to emerge group champions," said a confident Choton.
Bangladesh begin their campaign by taking on Bhutan on March 14 before facing Nepal on March 16.