Akhi Khatun had been a frequent squad member of different youth national teams for more than a couple of years now but it took her quite a long time to get into the limelight, that too after switching her playing role from midfielder to defender. And her new found talent in midfield was on full display Tuesday as her brace guided Bangladesh to a 3-0 win over Bhutan in the Saff U-15 Women’s Championship 2017 at Kamalapur Stadium in Dhaka.
The 14-year old, who hails from a “Tanti” family in Sirajganj, is the tallest member in the Bangladesh squad. And the versatile defender took little time to utilise her height in the Saff Championship as she opened the scoring with a glancing header. Akhi's second goal was also a treat to watch, converted via a top-notch flick in the second half.
When queried as to which defender resembles Akhi's playing style, Bangladesh head coach Golam Rabbani Choton didn't hesitate to remember Italian great Paolo Maldini's name, not for the goals but for her ability to guide the back four, as well as delivering crucial balls into the midfield and beyond. The same question was asked to Akhi more than once but with no reply.
Akhi was born a year after legendary Azzurri defender Maldini retired from international football. However, even after being pointed out that her coach sees Maldini’s characteristics in her she refused to say anything, sporting a big smile instead.
After a series of questions, Akhi finally admitted that it is not Maldini but Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez who is one of her favourite footballers of all time.
Akhi started her career as a central midfielder and continued with the same role during the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers in September last year. The need for a tall and versatile defender in the squad though saw her role being shifted from midfield to defence.
"It's totally deserving for her to be adjudged the best player. Those were fantastic goals coming from a defender. She proved her worth and I believe she will deliver more in future," said Choton.
Akhi, who reads in class nine, was extremely reticent at the post match press conference but managed to mention her parents for being supportive to her.
Akhi has been at the centre of attention in the Saff U-15 Championship. After the pre-tournament presser last week, BFF's strategy and technical director Paul Smalley gave a gentle reminder to this correspondent, saying, “This girl is going to be the future of Bangladesh football.” Smalley had of course meant Akhi.