The success of Women’s Football is high on the Federation’s list of priorities as per the objectives in Vision 2047. the-aiff.com is present with the Senior Women’s National Team in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic to follow their progress in the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers.
AIFF Media Team
BISHKEK, KYRGYZ REPUBLIC: Dangmei Grace, in her own admission, cannot stay away from football longer than 48 hours.
"Even on off days, or when we get a break after a competition, or from camp, I can go a day or maximum two, but after that I go and find a game. I have to go and play somewhere. When I’m not playing, I don’t know what to do with myself," says Grace, the star of the Indian forward line.
"I can’t live without football,“ she then declares emphatically.
It’s great for her that the Indian Women’s National Team has been in camp or playing friendlies for the past three months. What others might consider the grind of training, recovery, strengthening and back to training again, Grace considers the most enjoyable part of her life.
And it shows when she’s on the pitch. Whether gliding past defenders with skillful ease, pulling pranks on teammates, hitting a shooting drill with ruthless efficiency, Grace does everything with a smile on her face.
The 27-year-old has a cupboard full of trophies and plaudits. Fast tracked into the Indian team as a 17-year-old in 2010, Grace has won the Hero Indian Women’s League twice — with Sethu FC and Gokulam Kerala FC. Her performance for the latter in the 2021 AFC Women's Club Championship caught eyeballs, and so did her appearances in the India blue in the lead-up to the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. When India crashed out having played just one game because of an outbreak of the virus within camp, it left the devastated and Grace more than most.
"It was the worst thing to happen to us," she says. "We had worked so hard, been in camp for so long, and with the singular focus, the single aim of putting a great face in front of everyone as hosts. It was a huge blow to us."
For her, the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 1 is an opportunity for correction, a way to finally cross the t’s and put that heartbreak to bed. And to top it off, the game against the hosts Kyrgyz Republic will come in familiar territory.
Grace spent the better part of last year playing for PFC Sevinch Karshi in Uzbekistan. It was a step up from the rigours of Indian Football, and she was one of many women players who made the journey to Europe to ply their trade. Grace won the Uzbekistan Super League in her first go — earning the unique distinction of holding two league titles in the same calendar year.
"It was mentally and physically very demanding," she says. "Their game is more physical and the weather, the conditions, everything was a huge change. I had to adjust to living in a foreign country, find a way to keep myself occupied outside the pitch and also ensure I keep performing on it. It taught me a lot."
Unsurprisingly and yet ironically then, when the team played Uzbekistan in a one-off friendly in the lead up to their qualifier, it was Grace who scored India’s opener. "I knew a lot of players in their team," she says. "I knew the way they’d play, they would be physically robust, and always keep position when they lost possession. It was good to get a goal against them, but I wish we’d won…", she added.
The lack of a win yet this year has been at the forefront of a lot of conversations within the team, and yet, there seems to be confidence that the duck will break soon. Grace expects the hosts Kyrgyz Republic to play a lot like the way Uzbekistan did. The difference will perhaps be in the quality of the game itself. Uzbekistan are ranked in the top 50 in the world, a few spots above India and Kyrgyz Republic are much lower.
"Ranking is just a number," Grace says. "We can’t rely on paper, and theory. We have to go and get goals and get the win. And I’m confident we will."
India play Kyrgyz Republic in the first of the two-legged qualifier on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at 2000 hours IST. The match will be broadcast live on Kyrgyz Football Union official YouTube channel.