Messi’s rise to the top was meteoric and many viewed him as an overnight success. But Messi never liked that phrase.

It’s easy to assume that for a gifted footballer like Messi, everything came easy. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Messi sacrificed his blood, sweat and tears on the field for years before earning the right to play alongside Ronaldinho while wearing the Blaugrana jersey.

People often forget that success doesn’t follow a linear path. Years of hard work go unrewarded before one fine day every sacrifice is repaid in full.

The whole nation is currently rejoicing in the remarkable triumph of the Bangladesh women’s football team.

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Almost 20 years after the men’s team won their maiden SAFF Championship, Sabina Khatun and her teammates ran through every opposition and ascended to the top of women’s football in South Asia for the first time.

Bangladesh stormed into the final by scoring 20 goals in four matches while conceding none. In the final, they outplayed hosts Nepal and won the match 3-1.

Before the tournament, Bangladesh was cautiously optimistic, as they were aware of the talent they possessed in the squad but also knew that the team lacked experience at the international level.

But on the field, Bangladesh never played like underdogs. They played every game like champions. To say Bangladesh were the well-deserved champions, doesn’t encapsulate the sheer dominance they displayed throughout the tournament.

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The fluidity in their game, the fighting mentality and the bond between the players didn’t just manifest from thin air. It has been carefully cultivated for years.

The seeds of Bangladesh’s triumph in the SAFF Women’s Championship were sowed in age-level football, in particular, the SAFF Under-15 Women’s Championship in 2018.

In that tournament, Bangladesh smashed 22 goals in three matches and conceded just one goal, similar to the dominance Bangladesh showed in this year’s SAFF Championship.

The team faltered in the final hurdle, losing to India, but the potential of the young group of players was evident to all.

The only question was, whether or not they will be able to repeat it for the senior side.

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Those doubts have been answered in this year’s SAFF Championship. 13 players who played that tournament in Bhutan, were part of the SAFF Championship winning team in Kathmandu.

They are, Rupna Chakma, Akhi Khatun, Anai Mogini, Nilufa Yasmin Nila, Anuching Mogini, Maria Manda, Monika Chakma, Tahura Khatun, Shamsunnahar, Sohagi Kisku, Rituporna Chakma, Sajeda Khatun and Shamsunnahar Jr.

Out of them, five started in the final for Bangladesh and five were on the reserves bench.

Shamsunnahar, after getting subbed on in the 10th minute, scored the opening goal of the final. Goalkeeper Rupna made a number of crucial saves and Maria Manda and Monika Chakma dictated the midfield.

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These young players, on the verge of 20, are already among the best players in South Asia. They are being hailed by their countrymen, being regarded as national heroes by some.

But while celebrating their triumph, it’s important to think about the arduous journey they endured to reach where they are right now.

The likes of Maria and Rupna have become household names overnight, but behind their success lies years of sacrifice made by the players, their families and those involved with women’s football.

They had to fight against poverty, societal pressures, regressive customs and gender discrimination just for a chance to step on the football pitch.

They have shattered one glass ceiling after another and have emerged as the country’s biggest hope of making a mark in world football.

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However, the difference between South Asian football and European or South American football is astronomical. Even with such a talented group of young players, Bangladesh are years away from reaching that level.

Bangladesh are still a few sizable leaps away from being in Women’s World Cup contention. But who knows, maybe after a couple of more ‘overnight successes’ in space of a few decades, the unthinkable could become a reality.

The likes of Sabina Khatun and Sanjida Akhter won’t be with the team then, but their triumph in Kathmandu would be considered the triumph that set everything in motion.

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