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Call for natl league
- Women’s camp begins at SAI Eastern Centre

Calcutta: India coach M. Ratan Kumar Singh feels that a national league is essential to give an identity to women’s football in the country.

“Women footballers here suffer from a lack of exposure. Besides the senior nationals, there is very little scope for players to showcase their talent. The national league is therefore necessary to give a new direction to the game,” Singh told The Telegraph last evening.

The Manipur veteran is in the city to supervise the probables’ camp for the AFC Championship in Thailand from June 10-25.

India have been clubbed with Uzbekistan, Vietnam and China. One team will qualify for the knockout phase from the group.

“China are the strongest in our pool. Getting past them will be a problem. We will aim for a draw against them and full points from the other two matches,” Singh said.

India lost 0-17 to China in the Asian Championship last year. But Singh does not apprehend such a disaster this time. “The side is more cohesive now. The fitness has improved and the players are better suited for allround game. We’ll adopt a 4-5-1 approach in Thailand.”

There are 25 players — 12 from Manipur, three each from Orissa, Punjab, Bengal and Goa, and one from TN — at the camp being held at SAI Eastern Centre at Salt Lake. The number will be pruned down to 20 during the final selection on May 25. Singh is assisted by Mary Victoria from Bangalore and there are two practice sessions daily.

Singh is banking heavily on Manipur’s O. Bembem Devi and Tababi Devi, and Bengal’s Sujata Kar. He considers midfielder Bembem Devi, who was named women’s footballer of the year last season, as the “backbone of the team”.

Striker Tababi Devi is another enterprising prospect. “Her fighting spirit and striking ability is tremendous,” Singh said.

The AFC meet will, however, mean that the top rung players of the country will miss out on the senior nationals in Chennai from June 8-22.

Singh feels that the Indians are equal on power and stamina when pitted against the best but lack skill and co-ordination. “That is one aspect we need to focus on and will develop through constant practice.”

He pointed out that Manipur’s success in women’s soccer has been possible due to the support of the Manipur Football Association and enthusiasm in the state.

“We have several tournaments back home at the inter-district and local level — under-16, under-19 and above 21. The football development programme that is held every year in May-June also helps in promoting the game,” he informed.

The secret lies in spreading the game to the grassroots level. That will help women’s soccer to explore new avenues.

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