In the local language, the city of Buriram conveys the meaning of 'city of happiness’ or ‘peaceful city’. And while driving through the city roads, around 400 kilometres away from Bangkok, any first-timer to this part of the region will soon realise how befitting the name of this historic yet slumberous town is.
If the census report is to be believed, the population of Buriram hasn’t crossed 40,000 yet, despite the fact that it is considered one of Thailand's most momentous cities, surrounded by ancient historical monuments, a forest with a huge Gautam Buddha statue inside, and even a historical park located on the top of an extinct volcano.
The dozy nature of Buriram, however, hasn’t proved to be infectious for the Indian girls, who are here to play in the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualification Round 2. In fact, it is far from it. The players are absolutely exhilarated to set foot in a historic country like Thailand and are fervently waiting to renew the qualification battle that they cleared with distinction in the earlier round.
In April, the Indian women's U17 team topped their Round 1 group and made it to Round 2 of the AFC U17 Women's Asian Cup Qualifiers for the first time. In the three-team group played in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, the Young Tigresses won both their matches against the hosts Kyrgyz Republic and Myanmar and finished with six points.
India are placed alongside Korea Republic, IR Iran and hosts Thailand in Group A. The top two teams will book their berths at the final tournament to be held in Indonesia in April 2024.
India’s Head Coach Priya PV, who has recently been named the AIFF Women’s Coach of the Year, is also aware of the overwhelming enthusiasm that is flowing underneath her squad and said she took it as a positive sign. "For these girls, this AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers is the second major tournament since SAFF. The excitement they feel and the emotions involved in it are completely different.
My girls are well-prepared and consider themselves cut out for the job. So they are highly enthusiastic about showcasing their skills and giving it their all in every match. They're just waiting to go to the pitch," said the Indian coach with confidence.
At the same time, Priya is fully conscious of the challenges ahead and the hurdles awaiting them on the ground. "We have to admit, it is a new experience and a new challenge for them, which could be tough. Now that we have arrived in Bangkok and are driving down to Buriram, the fresh challenges have begun in earnest. We are no longer in our comfort zone," said Priya after arriving in Thailand.
"True, we are going to play the second round against much tougher opponents than we did in the first round. At the same time, we have made good preparations accordingly. We played practice matches with local boys’ teams in Goa. The Round 2 teams are strong and robust, but this team will give their best," said the coach. But then, being a mature coach with a wide range of experience in handling the age group players, Priya knows perfectly well about the twists and turns involved while playing international football.
"As all of us know, since the maturity level of the children in this age category is vulnerable, my job is to push them as much as possible, motivate them and prepare them to play their best. "Our goal is to secure qualification despite the tough competition. Our unwavering belief in our true ability and the determination to qualify will stand us in good stead. And this determination extends to all players and staff as well," said Priya.
"Why can’t we do it? Why not? We have invested our best in thorough preparations, similar to countries like Korea Republic, Thailand and Iran, who too have prioritised grassroots development. We can prove to be as good as them," said the head coach almost like a soliloquy.