Youngsters come to fore for Indian women football team ahead of Hero Gold Cup

Bhubaneswar (Odisha): Indian football is getting younger, and the biggest indicator of it is in the senior national teams.

In the recently concluded 2019 AFC Asian Cup, held in the UAE, the Blue Tigers were the second-youngest side (average age of 24.83 years) among the 24 teams at the continent’s elite level, and now the senior women’s team, in a similar vein, stands at an average age of 21.4 years.

Under women’s team coach Maymol Rocky, the side has made massive strides in the last few months as they went past the first round of the Olympic qualifiers for the very first time in November 2018. Following it up, in January, the team embarked on a four-match winning streak against Hong Kong and Indonesia, scoring 11 goals and keeping three clean sheets.

The starting XI that took to the field in their most-recent match against Indonesia, which ended in a 2-0 win, had eight players aged 23 or less. As the team prepares to take on Iran, Myanmar and Nepal in the Hero Gold Cup, Maymol stays confident that her young charges will continue their upward progression.

“I have always put focus on youth and believe that they can help the team reach newer heights each time. There are many advantages of having a young unit, and these girls are filled with great potential. They have shown glimpses of it on numerous occasions and have improved continuously,” Maymol said.

Maymol maintained the players are fast learners and have taken quickly to the style of football she wants them to play. “I like playing an attacking and fast-paced game, and these girls have been really responsive,” she said, adding: “Being young, they are always open to learning new things and I can shape them in the way I want.”

At just 25 years of age, Ashalata Devi is among the most-senior figures in the team and has taken on the role of a mentor. “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,” she said.

And one of her mentees is 18-year-old Jabamani Tudu, who has forged herself a place in the starting line-up as a left-back. The youngster, who hails from Odisha, felt that being a youthful outfit allows the team to play without fear.

“A number of girls I played with at U-16 and U-19 level are in the team now,” she said. “We have been learning a lot from each other. The senior players are also very patient with us and guide us at every step of the way. It’s like we’re one big family!”