The Indian women may have lost all their games in the recently-concluded four-nation tournament in Manaus, but star midfielder Manisha Kalyan said the team aren’t scared of any opposition anymore.
India are gearing up for the women's AFC Asian Cup in Mumbai and Pune next month and Manisha, who wrote her name in the record books by scoring India’s first-ever goal against Brazil at the senior level, said that the four-nation tournament has shown them that they can compete at the biggest stage.
The 20-year-old slotted past Brazil goalkeeper Leticia to score the equaliser for India in the eighth minute of the match. It remained 1-1 for a half an hour but Brazil then showed their prowess, winning 6-1.
"The South Americans were a bit taller, that’s all. When it comes to fitness, strength and stamina, we can match anyone. Earlier, we used to think that we are physically weak but now we’re much better and aren’t afraid of any team,” Manisha said during a virtual interaction.
India will need to be at their best in the Asian Cup, having been drawn in quite a difficult group comprising China, Chinese Taipei and Iran.
Manisha, who hails from Mugowal village in Punjab's Hoshiarpur district, said the team has been gelling well but need to improve a bit when it comes to skills.
“Skill-wise, I feel we are a bit lacking in our basics like first touch, mis-passes, but we’re all working on it together and feel confident,” she said.
Manisha’s speed on and off the ball has made her a threat to opposition defences, and she says she’s always been an extremely fast runner. In fact, she took up football only in standard eight. Before that, it was only athletics.
“It is because I was good in the 100m and 200m that my school sports master asked me to try out for the district football team. I got selected and felt so good playing the sport that I told the coach I will play football only.”
Manisha Kalyan in action. | Photo: Special arrangement
And she excelled in it. She had to join a new school since the school in her village was only till standard 8. Luckily for her, her new school had a football academy where she was able to hone her skills. Though she was good, the lack of women’s teams meant that she couldn’t advance.
Luckily for her, Mumbai’s Kenkre FC got to know of her.
“We got to know there was a girl who was really good. And since there weren't any women players, she played with guys. We knew right away that we wanted to sign her,” Joshua Lewis, Kenkre FC CEO told Free Press Journal.
They had to go all the way to request her school principal to allow her to miss her exams and come to Mumbai to play. Thankfully, they relented and it was at Kenkre FC where she got a taste of competitive football. When the Mumbai club didn’t make it to the IWL, they referred her to Sethu FC.
Her performances at the IWL were noticed and she got a call up for the national U-17 team to play in the BRICS Cup.
After her stints in the U-18 and U-19 national teams, Manisha made her way to the senior side. She also played for Gokulam Kerala in the first AFC Women's Club Champions League last month.
When asked what was the reaction in her home town when she scored against Brazil, Manisha said everyone was thrilled.
“Many villagers came to meet my parents and congratulated them, saying I did the right thing by choosing sports,” she said.
“My parents knew I was good. Even when people complained to my parents that I was the only girl playing among boys, they always backed me. That really helped me,” she said.
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