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India U-17s could give hope to other youngsters in the country: Bembem Devi


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New Delhi: The Indian men’s U-17 team are currently in the news for all the right reasons. After securing qualification for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, the boys, coached by Bibiano Fernandes, recently toured Spain and Germany as part of preparations and came up with decent results against quality age group sides of top club teams in both the countries.

The real battle, however, will begin soon as the boys have landed in Thailand to play in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup from June 17–23, 2023. Bembem Devi, the former captain of the Senior National Women’s team and currently the Head of Scouting of the AIFF along with Harjinder Singh, is one of those who have been following the progress of the team keenly.

Asked about her expectations from the U-17 team in Thailand, the legend of Indian women’s football had no hesitation in saying that the outcome would depend on how the entire squad would perform as a ‘team’ on and off the field.

“As a football lover, I try to watch every game our boys and girls play. In case I miss a match, I make sure to check the results at the end of the day. So, I was not surprised to see our U-17 team doing well recently. I am a keen follower of Bibiano’s team, and I think the good performance is the result of their collective efforts in every department in that team,” Bembem Devi told the-aiff.com from Manipur.

Bembem said, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Having seen the hard work and commitment displayed by the U-17 boys and the officials during their journey to the AFC U-17 Asian Cup final rounds, Bembem has become a huge appreciator of Bibiano’s squad.

“Football is a sport of collectiveness, a combination of different factors and most importantly, there should be perfect coordination amongst each other, be it a player, a coach, or a staff member. I am happy to see that Bibiano got the time with the players and utilised every bit of it, which is reflected in the performances.

“It’s always a long-term process, as Bibiano and his team started from scratch and I believe the commitment that they hold for each other is easily seen on the pitch. And if they can maintain this attitude, the team can surely shine in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup,” said Bembem.

A Padma Shri awardee, Bembem Devi, retired from international football in 2016 but continued to contribute to the sport as a coach and mentor. She has been actively involved in nurturing young talent and has served as an inspiration to aspiring footballers across the nation. Bembem’s

dedication and commitment to the game have made her a revered figure in Indian football.

“I don’t want to get into the technicalities that Bibiano applies on the pitch, but as a coach, I am confident about his approach to building this team mentally and physically strong. It takes a lot of patience and dedication to reach this level,” she said. The recent preparatory tours of Spain and Germany will definitely act as an advantage for the team, says Bembem.

She was appointed the chief of scouting of the federation along with Harjinder Singh (senior) in women’s and men’s football, respectively, and believes spotting the right players is a key role in building a successful team.

“I had several discussions with Harjinder ji about the scouting process and we both believe that the way the U-17 batch has come up will only give hope to young boys and girls to play the beautiful game in the country,” she said.

The Blue Colts have been drawn in Group D of the championship, where they will face Vietnam (June 17), Uzbekistan (June 20), and Japan (June 23) and Bembem feels every match will be a learning curve for the boys. She extends her best wishes to the team and assures them of the support they have from the entire nation, urging them to give their best.

“The draw is tough if the boys think it’s tough, but it all depends on how you approach it. Japan will be their strongest opponents but it will surely be a learning experience for all of them. I wish the boys and the staff all the best. They should know that everyone back in the country will support them and will hope the boys will put their best in the tournament,” Bembem concluded.

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