… Russia is added to the tournament 

Thinley Namgay 

The under (U)-17 national women’s football team which has been preparing in Gelephu for more than a month will face Bangladesh, the host in the opening match of the SAFF U-17 Championship in Dhaka on March 20.

The fourth edition tournament is scheduled between March 20 and 28.

In the last three appearances, Bhutan’s best performance was in 2018 when they beat Sri Lanka 6-0 in Thimphu.

The U-17 Coach Ngawang Yangchen said, “The squad was selected already and the players are all students. We are undergoing regular training.”

“The opponents are going to be tough,” she said, adding that besides Nepal and Bangladesh, India and Russia are also competing this time.

Ngawang said that the last tournament for U-17 girls was in Bangladesh in November last year. “We will play well. Although my girls don’t have much international exposure, I am optimistic.”

The teams will play each other once in a league and declare the result.

In what could be one of the new changes in the SAFF U-17 Women’s Championship, Russia will feature in the tournament. It became the first non-SAFF country to enter the tournament.

As per international sources, SAFF accepted Russia’s request to play in the tournament. Some say Russia has good relations with Asian countries despite the war in Ukraine.

Following the war in Ukraine, FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) banned Russia from international competitions. Since then, Russia did not play international games.

The last time Russian U-17 played its international tournament was in 2016.

There is not much say from the SAFF, AFC or FIFA on why Russia is playing in SAFF which is under the AFC.

However, SAFF recently posted on the official Facebook page, “We are delighted to announce that Russia will be competing in the SAFF U-17 Women’s Championship 2023 scheduled to take place in Dhaka from 20-28 March.”

Some international sources say that switching from UEFA competitions to AFC competitions will create an opportunity for Russia to continue participating in international tournaments.