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Girls dribble with fate and fortune

sports Updated: Aug 01, 2009 00:48 IST
Sharad Deep
Sharad Deep
Hindustan Times
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Ask them about Brazil's Marta, Birgit Prinz of Germany or Chinese woman football star Sun Wen and you are met with blank stares. They are equally clueless about who the last India women's football team skipper was (Roni Bala Chanu, 2007 Asia Cup qualifiers).

But switch track to David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo and suddenly the conversation crackles alive. That's how it is with the 31 probables having a ball at the SAI Centre here readying for next year's AFC (Asian Football Confederation) women's under-19 championship qualifiers.

Away from the arclights which in the Indian context is fixed on the champion men's team training in Barcelona to retain next month's Nehru Cup, these girls are taking the first tentative steps to restore India's international profile in women's football. One where they were almost 100 notches above the men in FIFA rankings before being de-listed this month for non-participation.

“These girls would be part of the pool of women footballers we are trying to build from which we would eventually choose the national team,” Alberto Colaco, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary, said from New Delhi. The AIFF will also call “slightly older” girls for a camp soon, he said. An ad hoc committee for women's football would also be formed on August 4, he said.

“I don't think it is important for us to know the past of the women's soccer in India. Our biggest goal is to help put India back in the FIFA ranking and do well in the AFC Championships next year,” says Y Kamala Devi a player from Manipur.

She isn’t the only ebullient one. Ksh Naocha Devi, Rojina Khatun, L Ashalata Devi, Gomati Barao, Lochana Munda echo her conviction in being able to give women's football a leg up.

The girls then get into their daily drills under coaches Shukla Dutta and Anita Sarkar, ex-internationals both. For five hours daily, their schedule is split into technical, tactical and fitness training. That's how it's been since July 15.

“They are a talented lot. What they need is exposure and with every passing day they are improving,” said Sarkar, the assistant-coach. “The girls need continuous training, and I am pretty sure that they would do well at the AFC qualifiers next year.”

Most of the squad is from Manipur, a state which has become India's sporting hub and whose domination of the women's game is reminiscent of the stranglehold Bengal once had on men's domestic football.

Chief coach Shukla Dutta said girls from Manipur, the current national champions, are definitely a cut above the rest.

Being among 24 teams in the west zone qualifiers means India will have to battle against the likes of UAE, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria among others. From a pool of six, the winners and runners-up will qualify for the finals of the AFC U-19 Championship. The best third-placed teams from the west and east zones too would also qualify for the finals.