The plethora of young talent, even in Women’s football, stays India’s biggest strength. Amongst an array of young talented players, one screams of dedication, commitment and the way which these two have paved towards success.
Talented 19-year old goalkeeper Panthoi Chanu, the last line of defence, is one of the youngest members of the Indian Women’s Senior National Team and the youngest Goalkeeper present inside the 20 member Indian contingent for the Rio 2016 Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 1. Patrolling her area gracefully, as if almost gliding on the asphalt, Panthoi’s bold style of thwarting away opponent’s shots, whilst dominating her domain, speaks volume in itself.
You ask her how she has managed to achieved all this and the Manipur born girl replies in a humble tone, “Coaches and Hard work”.
Nevertheless, Panthoi’s journey with the ball started 9 years ago, when she was 10, in Manipur.
“I fell in love with Football, the first time I saw the game being played. It was almost as if I was made for this sport”, she says.
“Football is an integral part of my life. It means the world to me; I think my world revolves around a ball”. (laughs)
You go a little deeper into footballing details and with a streak of glitter in her eyes; Panthoi expresses her passion for Goalkeeping.
“I was a natural at it. I was not made into a Goalkeeper, I was already one. It comes naturally to me. “
Ask her about the number one jersey coming razzmatazz free and she replies, “I believe a Goalkeeper is the mother of a Football Team. It is an integral part of the Team’s backbone. If the Goalkeeper does not act as the final barricade, the Team will suffer and perhaps even lose.”
In 2008, Panthoi Chanu represented India at the U-12 level and kick-started her journey in Indian Women’s Football.
“It is always an honor to play for India. The feeling when you hear the National Anthem is purely surreal. It is very emotional and moving.”
Since her debut for India, Panthoi has constantly impressed with her performances and her Goalkeeping heroics led Manipur to a famous National Games triumph in Kerala, this year. She was also an integral part of the Indian contingent that won the SAFF 2014 in Pakistan.
Attributing her success to the time she spent on the training ground with coaches, giving her cent percent every day, Panthoi says, “As they say there is no alternative to hard work. If you want to reach somewhere, you have to work hard for it. You have to be a go-getter”.
Goalkeeping Coach Chitra Gangadharan further understands that Panthoi will only evolve into a better player, if she continues to follow her hardworking regime.
“She (Panthoi) is an immensly talented girl. She will evolve into a better player with every passing moment; given she continues to work hard. She has the ability to be one of the best and it is evident by her Goalkeeping style.”
Panthoi’s hard work further reaped fruits, when her towering figure was included in the 20 member squad for Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 1, following a camp in Shiv Nadar University, Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.
“It is like a dream come true for me. I always dreamt of playing for the Senior National Team and finally I have made it. I am very happy and proud of it”, says an exuberant Panthoi.
“Perhaps that was the best day in my life. I was overwhelmed with joy. I felt privileged to be included amongst the icons of Women’s Football.”
The call-up has not only made Panthoi the youngest Goalkeeper in the 20 member contingent, but also allowed her to brush shoulders with the legendary Bembem Devi, whom she idolized as a child.
“I am fortunate, privileged and honored to be here. I have always idolized Bembem Didi and now I am getting to learn from her, this is a dream come true.”
Nevertheless, with a youth influx penetrating the National Setup, a healthy competition fosters for each and every starting position, including the Goalkeeping department.
“I have to be at my level best, if I want to get selected for the starting XI, because I know that the players we have, even in the Goalkeeping department, are World Class. There is a healthy competition amongst us.”
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)