Focus on youth as Blue Tigresses hunt for Hero Gold Cup success

Indian football is entering a new age with an ever-growing focus on youth, and the women's national football team is all set to take the ‘Young India’ message a step further in the inaugural Hero Gold Cup to be played in Odisha from February 9. To put it into context, the Blue Tigresses will go into the landmark tournament with a 20-member squad, which boasts an average age of only 21.4 years.

Explaining her decision behind picking such a young squad for such an important tournament, the Blue Tigresses' head coach Maymol Rocky, in an interview with the AIFF website, said, "I have always placed my belief in young players and I feel that they can really take you places. Most of our players are under-23. It’s a young India. So I can mould the team the way I want, and have them play the style of football I want them to. These youngsters have a good understanding of the game and are always willing to learn newer things."

25-year-old Ashalata Devi, who will be one of the senior members of the team and a mentor to the younger players, echoed her coach's emotions and said, "The young girls in the team are extremely hard working and energetic. They are the team's backbone. The best part is that they are always eager to learn. I look to guide them on and off the pitch. The response we receive from them is really heartening."

India's engagements

The Hero Gold Cup will prove to be a tough test for the ever-improving women's side, giving them the opportunity to prove their mettle against strong teams like Iran, Myanmar and Nepal. The four-nation tournament will begin at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on February 9 and will conclude on the 15th of the same month.

India, currently ranked 62nd in the FIFA Rankings, will begin their Hero Gold Cup campaign against Iran (ranked 44th) on February 9, before taking on Nepal on February 11. The Blue Tigresses' last match in the round robin format will be against Myanmar (rank 60) on February 13 and a possible final on February 15.

The tournament is the first of its kind in India for the women's national team and is being organized by the AIFF in association with the Odisha government. Explaining the aim behind organising the tournament, AIFF General Secretary Mr Kushal Das stated, “The Hero Gold Cup is meant to provide additional opportunity for the Indian women’s national team to face other powerful teams in a competitive format. While our team has been playing in friendlies overseas, we feel hosting such a competition will boost the growing popularity of girls’ football in India. Football followers in India deserve a chance to witness our National teams in action.”

India’s chances and the tournament’s significance

Maymol Rocky and co will go into the tournament in fine form, having won four consecutive friendlies against Hong Kong and Indonesia. The Gold Cup will serve as the perfect opportunity for the team gearing up to defend their South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) title in March, before playing in the second round of the Olympic qualifiers in April.

Rocky, however, believes that the tournament has a lot more to offer and will give the girls an opportunity to soak in the experience of playing a major tournament in front of a home crowd. "This is the first time ever that such a tournament is being organized in India. I feel it is a great opportunity for us to create heroes. The players will get to play in front of their home crowd and the spotlight will be on them. We can unearth some real gems at the Hero Gold Cup and show our fans what we are capable of," she said in the interview.

Here's the full 20-member India squad

GOALKEEPERS: Aditi Chauhan, Linthoigambi Devi, Sowmiya Narayasamy.

DEFENDERS: Ashalata Devi, Sweety Devi, Jabamani Tudu, Dalima Chibber, Lako Puti, Michel Castanha.

MIDFIELDERS: Sangita Basfore, Sanju Yadav, Sumithra Kamaraj, Indumathi Karthiresan, Ranjana Chanu, Manisha.

FORWARDS: Roja Devi, Anju Tamang, Ratanbala Devi, Dangmei Grace, Sandhya Ranganathan.

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