SAFF U-19 Women’s C’ship: New stars Sibani, Pooja eager to do an encore against Bangladesh

With 10 goals including two hat-tricks, the Indian women’s U19 squad started with a bang in their opening match against Bhutan in the SAFF U-19 Women’s Football Championship in Dhaka, marking a commanding beginning for the Young Tigresses. It was also a performance worth remembering for two debutantes, Sibani Devi and Pooja, both of whom scored three goals each in that eventful match.

With 10 goals including two hat-tricks, the Indian women’s U19 squad started with a bang in their opening match against Bhutan in the SAFF U-19 Women’s Football Championship in Dhaka, marking a commanding beginning for the Young Tigresses. It was also a performance worth remembering for two debutantes, Sibani Devi and Pooja, both of whom scored three goals each in that eventful match.

Though after the final whistle, the girls celebrated and congratulated each other, deep down, they were aware that the task was not complete. They have another major hurdle to cross — a match against hosts Bangladesh against whom they have an indifferent record.

“I was really happy and felt very proud of myself,” smiled Sibani, who scored her first hat-trick against Bhutan on Friday. “We played as a team against Bhutan. “I wanted to score a goal yesterday, but when I scored my first goal, I thought to myself, I should now score another. Then another came along, it was not expected, but I am happy I did,” Shibani Devi was quoted as saying by the-aiff.com.

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Hailing from Manipur, Sibani belongs to a family deeply entrenched in the football realm. Her father, Nongmeikapam Itocha Singh, is a former Mohun Bagan and Dempo defender, and her brother, Sridarth Nongmeikapam, played for the India U-16 Men’s National team and currently playing at Sudeva FC.

“My father inspired me to play football. I started playing in 2019 and my father was only my coach,” said Sibani. “He is a strict coach but a loving father too. He coached both me and my brother until we got into our respective clubs. My father always tells me to work hard, enjoy the game and stay injury-free,” she said.

The task of winning against Bhutan is done and dusted, it’s time for the team to shift its focus to the encounter with host Bangladesh, to be played at the BSSSMK Stadium in Dhaka on Sunday. Since 2021, India have faced a consistent string of losses to Bangladesh in all age group matches of the women’s national team. On Sunday, the U19 girls have a crucial opportunity to reverse the trend. They will be entering a do-or-die situation in the SAFF U19 Women’s Championship, seeking to turn the tables against the hosts.

“Now we are focused and will play for the Bangladesh challenge. It will be an important game for all of us, as we need to take revenge for our seniors, juniors and ourselves,” Sibani said.

Pooja from Haryana, who secured a hat-trick on Friday, expressed joy for her team’s victory while acknowledging the formidable strengths of Bangladesh. “My hat-trick was possible due to the team’s unity. I aim to score another hat-trick against Bangladesh tomorrow,” Pooja said.

Terming Bangladesh as a strong side with speedy strikers, Pooja said, “They are surely a strong team and have speedy strikers, but we can definitely defeat them if we play as a cohesive unit.”

The match between India and Bangladesh is always highly anticipated, promising fans a game of intense competition and high energy.

When asked about Bangladesh’s challenge, head coach Sukla Dutta said, “Being in Bangladesh as the host, it’s crucial to thoroughly prepare the team during today’s training session. I’ve identified specific areas, especially their positions, that require attention and improvement.

“I have been observing the Bangladesh team for a while now. Their defence is strong, particularly on the right wing, and the middle half is performing well. The squad has been together for a considerable time and have an overall balance.

“I am emphasizing both a solid defence and an attacking strategy. My primary goal in coming to Bangladesh is to win against the host team and secure the trophy. I’ve made it clear to my players that winning is the ultimate objective, said the coach ahead of the Bangladesh clash,” she said.

Expressing her views on Bhutan’s game, she said, “I instructed my players to patiently observe Bhutan’s passing structure before initiating our game, and they executed the plan perfectly, resulting in our ability to score these many goals. Maintaining consistent goal pressure is important for keeping the opponents on their toes.

“While I appreciate the goals they scored, it’s crucial for the team to move past that and focus on addressing weaknesses within the given time frame. The key is to rectify shortcomings and deliver a strong performance in the upcoming game.”

Sukla is mindful of the home fans who are set to show their support for Bangladesh on Sunday. She said, “In addition to facing the opposing team and dealing with the home crowd, I need to ensure that my starting eleven can navigate the challenges presented by both factors.”

(IANS)

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