Bembem Devi, the first woman footballer to have received the prestigious Padma Shri Award, feels the current crop of the Indian Senior Women’s National Team is “extremely lucky” to get a chance to play against Brazil in the forthcoming International tournament in Manaus.
“Brazil are ranked 7th in the world. The girls are so lucky to get a chance to play against them. The girls need to settle down fast. It’s so heartening to get a chance to play against your idols. The Brazilian squad consists of so many superstars including Martha, my favourite player,” Bembem smiled.
“The learning experience will be immense, and this will stay on with Indian Football forever. Once you play against your idol, it raises your bar as you get to understand her body language on the pitch,” she added. “Playing against higher-ranked oppositions will teach the girls to understand how to counter higher-ranked and stronger teams. Even Chile and Venezuela are very strong opponents. The tournament will be immensely helpful.”
Speaking about the Padma Shri Award, Bembem averred: “I feel this Award will inspire the younger girls. This is the fourth highest civilian award in India, and a woman footballer being awarded with it will motivate younger girls to do better and dream big. There is recognition for women footballers in India, and nothing can be more positive than that.”
“I have been overwhelmed by the wishes and love from the people. People have been happier than me. Everyone was so happy. This Award is for everyone.”
She had received the Award in the Capital earlier this week from the honourable President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind. The function was held at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. In the process, Bembem joined the elite club of Late Gostho Paul, Late Sailen Manna, Late Chuni Goswami, Late PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia and current Indian Men’s National Team captain Sunil Chhetri as Indian Footballers who won the prestigious Padma Shri Award.
Bembem has been a keen follower of the Indian Women’s senior team’s exploits and maintained the “confidence” of the girls is on a high.
“The confidence of the girls has increased manifold owing to the exposure tours wherein they played against higher-ranked oppositions. I understand that training hard is paramount but any team needs to play games. I’m so happy that the girls are getting to play such strong opposition,” she expressed.
“Women’s football has progressed a lot from my playing days. During my playing career, we used to travel by trains, never got any exposure tours. But if you look now, there is professionalism all around. The AIFF is trying to raise the bar, the girls are playing so many matches at the international level. The Hero IWL is also facilitating growth,” Bembem, also referred to as the ‘Durga of Indian Football’ maintained.
However, Bembem wasn’t much willing to make any predictions about India’s performance in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022. “Hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup is a huge move. But let me tell you anything can happen in football. Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup but went down to Germany 1-7. So it’s hard to predict whether we will qualify for the quarter-final of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. It all boils down to hard work, and a bit of luck,” Bembem pointed out. “We need to play as a family.”
“Gokulam Kerala FC playing in the AFC Women’s Club competition is a huge step for Indian Football. It’s so encouraging that an Indian women’s club is getting to play at the continental level. This will spur on more players, and even clubs to field a women’s team. Everyone will now have their eyes on the AFC Women’s Club Championship,” Bembem opined.