While we celebrated the under-16 women's football team's success over the last two months, here is a look into the background of these girls who took up the beautiful game and came so far in just three to four years.
The common thread for most of these girls, aged between 13 and 15, is that all of them are from poor families of remote villages. Another common factor is that many of the girls faced obstacles in pursuing their passion, and that obstacle did not come from the neighbours or local people, rather they came mostly from within their own families as their parents did not like the idea of the 'girls wasting time playing football' rather than helping their families with household chores or studying.
But as success came, the hurdles started to fall, and the families began to play a more encouraging role helping these girls flourish. Here we look at the profiles of each of those 23 girls, and hear the stories of their journey.
She is the talent that pushes the team forward, the captain who is always front and centre. Her eight goals in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers is staggering. Coming from an underprivileged family in Gopalpur, she was 10 years old when she ventured into the world of school football in 2011 with the Bangamata Gold Cup under threat of censure from her mother.
“The main obstacle in my decision to play was my mother,” said the best player among all six teams in the qualifiers. She found encouragement from her paternal uncle, Nitai Chandra Sarkar, who saw beyond social constraints and urged his niece to follow her heart. She thanks coaches Golam Raihan Bapon, Chhoton and Litu.
The 15-year-old is a student of class-IX at Shuti BM Pilot High School.
A daughter of a farmer, Sanjida had to battle the odds to get to where she is today – a 15-year-old playing the game she loves. In what is a common thread in the stories of these girls, the main obstacle to her pursuing her interest and dream were the females in her life – her mothers, her elder sisters and the neighbourhood women. They tried to bar her from playing football as it was deemed unseemly for a girl to play sports, but she sneaked out at evening time and played anyway.
She found encouragement from her father Liakot Ali and the teachers at her school, Kalsindur Government Primary School, who urged her to follow her calling. She started out under Mohammad Mofizuddin, the primary school coach, in 2011 and participated in the Bangamata Gold Cup.
In 2013, during the BFF training camp ahead of the AFC U-14 Women's Qualifier Playoffs in Sri Lanka, this 11-year-old girl from Mymensingh caught the eye of the coaches and after a three-day trial, was fast-tracked into the national team.
Her rise was similar to other girls from Kalsindur Government Primary School under the supervision of Mohammad Mofizuddin. She had faced societal pressure from her neighbours who asked why girls should play football. However, she got support from her father Abdul Motaleb, a farmer, and her brother Rashidul Islam and started out in football by playing for her school in the Bangamata Gold Cup in 2011. She is studying in class-IX at Kalsindur High School and College.
Unlike many others in her group of champion age-level footballers, Anuching Mogini did not face any social obstacles when she started playing football in 2011. Playing for Khagrachari's Mogachori Primary School in the Bangamata Gold Cup under the guidance of Shila Mong, Anuching's side emerged inaugural champions of the competition.
She was encouraged to play by her parents and neighbours, a veritable boon considering the difficulties faced by the others in this regard. The turning point in her fledgling career came during the KFC national women's championship in 2014, when she played for Narayanganj.
She was selected and has not looked back since. She is studying in class-IX in Ghagra Bohumukhi High School.
One among five children and a daughter of a fish vendor in Mymensingh, Shamsunnahar has faced many obstacles to pursue her love of football. Her mother was against her playing sports and according to the right-back, is still against it even after the success that has shot her into the national limelight.
She found support from her father Mirazuddin, and the influential coach at Kalsindur Government Primary School Mohammad Mofizuddin and started her foray into football in the 2012 Bangamata Gold Cup.
The turning point in her career came during the Plan U-15 football tournament in 2013, playing which she caught the eye of the national age-group team. She is currently studying in class-VII at Kalsindur High School and College.
Having lost her father, Maria Manda watched her mother do farm work on other people's land for the subsistence of the family of five. That may easily have seen her towing the line and putting her dreams on the back-burner. But unlike many of her team mates, she found unwavering support from her mother Enota Manda in her foray into football. The neighbours however, gave her a tough time, but once she and the school team started doing well, those barriers fell apart.
She first started football in 2011, playing for the Kalsindur Government Primary School in the Bangamata Gold Cup.
Her big break came right after playing the 2013 Plan Under-15 football tournament.
She is the custodian of Bangladesh's fortunes, and how well she lived up to that role during their victorious campaign in the just-concluded AFC U-14 Women's Championship Qualifiers. Only one shot on target passed Mahmuda's vigil in five matches, and she has Mahmudur Rahman Litu, the goalkeeping coach of the team, to thank for it.
A Kalsindur Government Primary School girl, she made her entry into the world of football in 2012 playing in the Bangamata Gold Cup. She did face obstacles, mainly from the villagers in Mymensingh who asked her to leave the game. She persisted doggedly and used the opposition from the villagers, and to a lesser extent her parents, to spur her on to greater things.
The turning point in her career came in the JFA U-14 national Women's Football Championship in 2015.
Mousumi is an ambitious midfielder hailing from Rangpur. She faced acute pressure from some villagers when she expressed interest in playing football. Ever the fighter, that did not stop her. Inspired by her teachers at Palichara Primary Govt High School to pursue her dreams, she started her career in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup and helped her team finish runners-up.
Coached by Harunur Rashid at school, she moved up in footballing circles and impressed all and sundry with her growing skills on the pitch. Like many others on this list her big break came through the Plan Under-15 football tournament in 2013, after which she entered the national limelight and has continued there since.
Hailing from Satkhira, Masura Parvin, like most others on this page, had to face barriers when she wanted to do the thing that gave her joy. Playing football was not the wish of her mother, but her father Rajab Ali, a vegetable vendor, gave her the courage to follow her heart.
Even that would not have been enough if her school friends had not put her name forward for football, and Masura soon took her first step in 2010, playing in the KFC Women's Super League.
The turning point in her career came when she played the Under-15 Plan football tournament in 2013. Her mother still wants her to leave football. She is studying in class-IX at Karima Maddhomik Biddalay.
Nargis Khatun started football in 2011 in Rajshahi. Playing for the Khardakar Government Primary School in the Bangamata Gold Cup in 2011, her side finished third. She was guided by school coach Afiruddin.
Although she is now firmly entrenched in football, the start was not so easy. Her mother, unsurprisingly, was intransigent in her opposition at first. But thanks to her father Akbar Ali and her school teachers' persuasion, her mother finally relented.
Playing for the Plan Under-15 football tournament in 2013 she caught the eyes of the national selectors. She is currently a student of class-X in Bhasha Shaheed Abdul Jabbar Ansar and VDP School and College.
Sheuli Azim is one of the many to have benefited from the drive and passion of coach Mohammad Mofizuddin at the Kalsindur Government Primary School in Mymensingh.
The main obstacle she faced was from her mother and neighbours, but happily it was her father, Nikunja, who encouraged her to carry on regardless. Once she started doing well, however, the objections from her mother and neighbours faded.
She got her start and breakthrough playing
for her school in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup. She is a student of class-IX in Kalsindur High School and College.
Monika Chakma is another one of the lucky few who had not faced obstacles in pursuing her dream of playing and excelling in the sport she loves.
Studying at Mogachori Primary School in Rangamati, she was taken under the guidance of coach Shantimoni Chakma. Her father Bindu Chakma was the major inspiration behind her taking up the sport.
She started out on 2011 playing for her school in the Bangamata Gold Cup. The turning point in her career came when she played in the Plan U-15 football tournament.
She is a student of class-IX in Ghagra High School.
Growing up in Khagrachari, right-back Anai Mogini is another one of the lucky few who had a relatively obstacle-free path to football.
Twin of teammate Anuching, Anai had fine coaches in Shila Mong and Shantimoni Chakma at Mogachori Primary School.
She first played competition-level football in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup and helped her side become the inaugural champions.
She names her father as her biggest inspiration, and identifies her turning point as being the KFC
Women's Super League in 2013.
She is studying in class-IX at Ghagra High School.
Sirat Jahan Shopna hails from Rangpur. She has had to face hardship in her young life. Her whole family was against her playing football, but it was her teachers in Palichara Primary Government School, including coach Harunur Rashid, who talked to them and convinced them to let her pursue her dreams.
Her start in football came with the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup and she helped her school become runners-up in the inaugural edition of the tournament. Her breakthrough moment came two years later in 2013 when her performances in the Plan Under-15 football tournament earned her national recognition.
She is a class-IX student in Shuti BM Pilot High School.
Sarah Ban Tohura is from Mymensingh. She started out in 2011 with the Bangamata Gold Cup playing for Kalsindur Government Primary School. Her biggest obstacles to following her dreams were her parents, whom her paternal uncle Motiul Alam convinced into letting her play football.
According to Sarah, her biggest inspiration for taking up the sport was another paternal uncle, Hamid.
Under coach Mohammad Mofizuddin, she developed into a talented footballer, and with her performances in the Bangamata Gold Cup in 2013 -- when her school became champions -- she garnered national attention.
She is studying in class-IX in Kalsindur High School and College.
Nila is always looking to improve. Only 13 years old, she got her start in the 2013 Plan Under-15 football tournament, and that is the only chance she needed, because her enthusiasm
and talent got her into national focus.
She faced plenty of barriers from her neighbours and her mother when she first started expressing her interest in the sport. But she had a guardian angel in the form of her maternal grandmother Rokeya Begum, who used her authority to bat away such objections.
She is a student in class-IX at Chand Sultana Maddhomik Balika Biddalay.
Taslima found the attitude of the world changing with her successes on the field. The daughter of a farm produce dealer and one of five children in the family, she had to deal with a lot of opposition initially. The people in her village as well as her family would prove as obstacles to furthering her football career.
However, inspired by Mofiz Sir and Litu Sir, she started her career in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup from where she never looked back.
She initially wasn't that interested in football, but the game grew on her.
Ratna played in the Bangamata Gold Cup around five years ago, when her school, Palichara High School, finished runners-up.
She got her first football lessons from the school's football teacher Harun Ur Rashid before being selected through the Plan U-15 Talent Hunt programme.
She went on to become a regular member of the under-14 teams before being selected for the triumphant under-16 team.
She says she never faced obstacles from family; rather they encouraged her. School teachers and neighbours, too, provided encouragement. She is now in class-IX.
A student of class-VIII in BKSP School and College, she got her start in the 2013 Bangamata Gold Cup where she represented Rajshahi's Bagmara Primary School.
Mentored and encouraged by coach Monsur Rahman, she began to watch games on TV, which only fuelled her fire for football.
The people in her village began asking what the point of a girl playing football was.
They said she would find it very difficult to find a suitor once she had grown up and was about to get married due her career.
The Plan Under-15 tournament, where Akhi represented Rajshahi, got her break and she was called up to the national team.
Studying in Class-X in Shuti BM Pilot High School, Josna was mentored by the under-16 national team coach Golam Rabbani Choton's brother Golam Raihan Bapon.
She got her start in the 2012 Inter-School Tournament. Her family refused to let her play the sport she loved, but she found a pillar of support in the form of her cousin Samiul Alam.
The turning point in her career came in the Plan Under-15 football tournament.
Nazma is another national team member from Mymensingh. She is a student of class-IX at the Kalsindur High School.
Starting her foray into football in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup, she faced some resistance while trying to begin her blossoming career. She would watch football with her father Abul Kalam during World Cups and she also played with her brother.
However, her mother attempted to stop her from playing but the chairman spoke to her mother and all was good. Mentored by Mofiz, her career finally went on an upward trajectory after the 2013 Plan Under-15 tournament.
Born in Rangpur, Sultana is studying at the Palichara Government High School and she had never faced any obstacles to furthering her career.
While many of the girls were hindered by the disapproval of the people in their villages, Mosammat says that it was the people in her village who have proven to be her biggest inspiration.
So, with the support of her community bolstering her will to work hard to realise her dreams, she began her journey in the 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup.
She gives special credit to coach Harunur Rashid, under whose watchful eye she blossomed into the player she is today.
Hailing from Sylhet, Ruksana was another of the national team's players that say they had faced no obstacles due to the path they had chosen. A student at the Charighata High School, she was mentored by Amanur Rashid, a teacher at the school.
She got her start in a 2011 tournament, and was inspired by everyone around her, including her parents, her teachers and even the village folks.
The turning point in her career came in the 2015 National Championships where she played for Bangladesh Ansar.
She hopes that she can hold on to her spot in the team.