If first timers Delhi will aim to beat all odds against heavyweights Manipur and reach their maiden Final, it will be down to who blinks first between Jharkhand and Odisha in the two Semifinals of the 20th Women’s National Championships in Golaghat, Assam on Saturday.
Delhi have been the surprise element of the Nationals with their superlative performance against the likes of two-time Champions West Bengal and on-paper stronger opponents like Kerala and Bihar.
“We are pinching ourselves,” Team Captain and India striker Jyoti Ann Burret told AIFF Media on the eve of the Team’s semifinal match.
“It’s been a valiant effort for us to reach this far overcoming the likes of Bengal. The Team gelled really well and we stuck to a plan. We can draw a lot of inspiration from this effort,” she added.
According to the 24-year old marksman, Delhi Coach Paritosh Sharma’s ‘modern outlook’ has played a vital part in the Team success.
“He is a very modern Coach with the latest training methods. He has put in a lot of effort to play in a certain style and that had clicked for us.”
Jyoti, who was part of India’s AFC Asian Cup Squad last year, has so far scored three goals so far in the tournament with a brace against Bihar.
Delhi take on 16-time Champions Manipur in the semifinals on Sunday and Jyoti feels the job at hand is enormous.
“Manipur are a top side. Their record in the Tournament speaks for itself. It will be baptism by fire for us. But I feel the fact that there were no expectations from us as such helped a great deal and it will be the same in the semis.”
The Capital State Women’s Team, whose best finish in the Nationals was back in 2003-04 Nationals when they reached quarterfinals, remained unbeaten throughout the Group matches.
National Women’s Team Coach Anadi Barua stated the “exuberance of youth” is helping Delhi a lot. “They are a wonderful bunch of girls. It’s so heartening to see them combining well on the field,” he told AIFF Media.
Tarun Roy, who coached Delhi to the quarterfinals in 2004 expressed his glee at the Team’s performance accrediting the success to the just concluded DSA League where players got the much-needed match practice.
“I think the fact that the Delhi League was conducted just before the Nationals helped a lot. The Team looks in good shape. Also the inclusion of two Manipuri Players including National Team Player Ashalata (Devi) has added firepower in their ranks.”
P. BIjeta Devi is the other Manipuri who’ll have to stand tall against her own State if Delhi are to harbour any chances of a summit berth.
On the other hand, Manipur have not only won all their matches en route the Final but have stolen a march over their opponents in Group A. The most accomplished in the Competition have plundered as many as 55 goals conceding only one, that against Maharashtra.
In the other semifinal of the day, both Jharkhand and defending champions Odisha will look to seal a berth in the summit clash. Both the outfits have kept clean slates going into the last-four tie.
In fact, both are yet to end on the wrong side of the spectrum with Odisha triumphing in all their Matches and Jharkhand dropping only two points from their quota of five matches.
More creditable for Odisha, the Defending Champions who usually boast of a number of National Team players in their arsenal have been bereft of their services with most of the first Team Players representing Railways in this edition.
“Our Team is full of U-19 and U-18 Players,” Odisha Head Coach Shrandhanjali Samataray informed. “This is not the first Team as more than half of the Players played for Railways this year. So the players representing Odisha this time are all rookies.”
But Samataray isn’t complaining. Rather she is elated at the prospect of this bunch of youngsters getting a chance to strut their stuff in front of National Team scouts.
“These young girls have done exceptionally well to come this far. They have shown character and taken every game by the scruff of the collar. I’m sure some of them must have impressed the scouts here.
“It is an extra impetus for these girls to further prove their mettle in front of National Team scouts. At the end of the day, every one dreams to don the India jersey.”
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)