The Bangladesh under-16 women's football team will fly for Myanmar on Saturday with the challenge of reaching the final stage of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship, a stage the previous batch had successfully navigated to two years ago.
The last time Bangladesh emerged champions in their qualifying group to earn a ticket to the final round in Thailand, but this time due to a change in format they are having to go through a second qualifying round despite effortlessly clinching top spot in the first round at home in September last year.
And there lies the big challenge -- Bangladesh have been pitted against China, Myanmar and Philippines in Group B – all three believed to be very strong opponents, with China tipped to be the best. The girls in red and green will take on Philippines on February 27 before squaring off against hosts Myanmar on March 1. They will end their campaign against China on March 3.
Two teams from two groups will qualify for the final round and join Thailand, North Korea, South Korea and Japan -- who received automatic qualification.
A press conference ahead of the campaign was held at the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) House yesterday, where coach Golam Rabbani Choton expressed his determination to seal the qualification.
"We will go to Myanmar with the ultimate target of going to Thailand," Choton said. "It will be a difficult challenge as the other teams are very strong. But we have been in constant training and have played in tournaments since January last year. So we have gotten better.
"We gave Australia a run for their money in the final round last year and that will be our motivation when we play against teams like China," said Choton, adding that the team has been playing two practice matches every week against the under-19 team for the last one-and-a-half months and the younger team has won more matches.
However, the performance of women's teams have been mixed in recent times. This team lost the final of the SAFF U-15 Championship against India last year while the under-19 team and the Olympic team took a pasting in two campaigns. The saving grace was the under-19 team winning the SAFF title.
Paul Smalley, the technical and strategic director of BFF, informed that all three opposition teams have different attributes and different playing styles, so it will be a very difficult challenge for them but he has confidence on the Bangladesh players to do well.
The 23-member team will be accompanied by 11 senior players in the tour and the seniors will train with the coaching staff with an eye on next month's SAFF Women's Championship, the speakers informed.