Friday , April 19 2024

Know Your Young Tigresses in SAFF U-16 Women’s Championship: India’s Unity in Diversity!

With 23 players hailing from as many as 13 states, the Indian U16 Women’s Team is one of the most diverse teams the women’s national setup has ever had. From Punjab to Tamil Nadu, from Maharashtra to Meghalaya, from every nook and corner of our hugely diverse country, these 23 girls are united only for one task, bringing the SAFF U16 Women’s Championship trophy home.

The players for this newest and youngest batch of Young Tigresses were scouted mainly from the Junior and Sub Junior Girls National Football Championships, both Tier 1 and Tier 2, held last year. Let’s get to know them a bit before they make their much-awaited India debut.

Head coach Biby Thomas handed the captain’s armband to Shveta Rani, who turned 15 last month and is the only player with prior international experience. The Haryana midfielder was part of India’s squad at the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers Round 1 in Kyrgyzstan last month. Shveta said, “Let’s take this tournament match by match. We don’t have to be satisfied and get carried away with a win or two, but go all the way and bring the trophy home.”

For a huge state like Rajasthan, its representation in the Indian football teams has been scarce in recent years. Hoping to change that is 14-year-old goalkeeper Munni, who started all three matches for Rajasthan at the Sub Junior NFC Tier 2 last year. Punjab has produced a plethora of male footballers throughout history. In the women’s game, Manisha Kalyan has been one of India’s best. Looking to emulate her are forwards Gurnaz Kaur and Gurleen Kaur, who impressed in the Junior and Sub Junior NFC, respectively. Gurleen, the youngest squad member, is only 12 years of age.

Manipur, the unrivalled top producer of women footballers has representation with three players, all playing in different positions. Centre-back Sarangthem Alena Devi and goalkeeper Konjengbam Tamphasana Devi, both champions with Manipur in the Junior Girls Tier 1 in Bhubaneswar, will be marshalling the defence and guarding the goalposts respectively. Up front, Longjam Nira Chanu, who will don jersey number 10, has goals up her sleeves. The 14-year-old netted 11 goals in just three matches at the Sub Junior Tier 1 and eight goals for Eastern Sporting Union in the recent Manipur Women’s League season.

Another state which has emerged as a women’s sports powerhouse in recent years is Odisha, who have the likes of left-back Rupashree Munda and midfielder Ritu Badaik in the squad. Both were semi-finalists in the Junior Tier 1 and Sub Junior Tier 2, respectively. Badaik netted seven goals, including four in a single game against Chandigarh.

Odisha’s neighbours West Bengal, who were runners-up in the Sub Junior Tier 1, have two players as well – defender Amrita Ghosh and midfielder Thanda Moni Baskey. Karnataka emerged as Sub Junior Tier 2 champions and a couple of players made the cut from that side – Rheanna Liz Jacob and H Yashica. The former is a product of the BFC Soccer Schools programme, while the latter plays for Kickstart FC in the Karnataka Women’s League. Meghalaya’s Bonifilia Shullai, who can play in defence and midfield, has also played for Bengaluru FC U15s and netted three goals in Sub Junior Tier 1.

With five players, the Sub Junior Tier 1 champion Jharkhand is the state with the highest representation in the squad. Full-backs Divyani Linda and Anita Dungdung are the joint-oldest squad members at 15 years of age. Divyani scored six goals in Junior Tier 1, while Anita was the player of the tournament in the U17 Subroto Cup for champions St. Patrick’s High School, Gumla. 13-year-old goal machine Anushka Kumari, who hails from Hazaribagh, was the Sub Junior Tier 1 top-scorer with 22 goals, earning her the number 9 jersey. Athletic goalkeeper Surajmuni Kumari and confident centre-back Elizabed Lakra make up Jharkhand’s five.

The other names in attack are Neha Saji, player of the tournament in the Khelo India Women’s League Kerala 2022-23 for Gokulam Kerala, and Junior Tier 2 joint top-scorer Pearl Fernandes, who led Goa to the title with 14 goals in five games.

From Maharashtra, Gauri Gurav of the BFC Satellite Academy in Palghar will be pacing down the right flank. Rounding up the squad of 23 is Tamil Nadu midfielder Anwita Raghuraman, who has also played in the women’s league of Delhi and Karnataka for Signature FC and Bengaluru FC, respectively.

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