Players of the Indian women's football team have been reminding themselves of all the sacrifices they have made on their way to the AFC Asian Cup finals, and are now focussed on making them count.
The continental showpiece starts with a double header on Thursday and India's primary target is to make the quarter-finals and inch closer to securing a maiden FIFA World Cup qualification.
On the eve of their campaign opener against Iran, the Blue Tigresses reflected on the time away from home, training and going on exposure tours to prepare for the tournament.
"It's been over a year that I haven't seen my parents. First, I was under rehab, and then the pandemic struck. I was so concerned, and now I am in the camp for a long time. Sometimes I felt lonely, but it was all for a reason," forward Sanju Yadav said.
"All of my sacrifices have come in for the tournament. It's the biggest I will play so far. I have to make it count, at any cost," she told the AIFF.
Sanju had suffered from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, and it was not till last year that she could get back to training.
"Yes, it was tough to come back after surgery, I had spent long hard months in physiotherapy, even before the National Camp started. When I finally got back to the pitch, the feeling was slightly different.
"The doctor had told me that I was good at playing, but my body was still not reacting like it used to before," recalled Sanju.
"The doubts and the apprehensions begin to creep in. But the coaches were accommodating enough in those phases, and soon I could feel my legs beginning to do the things my mind wanted them to do."
From assembling for a six-month camp in Jamshedpur to playing some of the toughest teams in the world, and Asia, the Tigresses have grown together.
Young winger Manisha Kalyan, who had netted the only goal against mighty Brazil last November, said: "Many people could not see my goal live because the match was in the wee hours of the morning. But I got so many messages after they saw the highlights.
"That's over now, though -- the Brazil match was also a part of the preparation for the Asian Cup, this is the biggest stage we've got to so far."
"This is my chance to really make India proud. I pray for wishes from everyone. This is the perfect chance for our country, this is my chance to do well in Asia," she stated.
A few days after the match against Brazil, another player had had a special occasion, when the Blue Tigresses faced Venezuela. Midfielder Karthika Angamuthu made her senior debut against the South American nation.
"My India debut will always be a special moment for me. The coach had also presented me with a small memorabilia to mark that debut, and that's something that I will keep forever," smiled Karthika.
"But the feeling that I am getting ahead of the Asian Cup is one that surpasses that as well. The competition for those 11 spots on the field is immense, albeit a healthy one. If I do get my chance, I want to grab it with both arms. I want to make this more special than my debut."
Head Coach Thomas Dennerby himself has been away from his family for long.
"But no complaints. The girls are the real stars, and we need to help each other out. In such a tournament as the Asian Cup, we need to stick together," he said.
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