It was back in 2011 that Ashalata Devi made her debut for the Indian women’s team as an 18-year-old and eight years later on Tuesday, November 13, she etched her name into the history books as she became the first-ever captain of the women’s national team to lead her side past the first round of the Olympic qualifiers.
At the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, India went down fighting 1-2 to hosts Myanmar in their last group stage match of the first round of the 2020 AFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament but their results in their last two matches – a 1-1 draw against Nepal and a 7-1 win against Bangladesh – ensured that they progressed to the second stage.
Ashalata, with the armband on, was a prominent figure in the centre of defence in all three games and played a vital role in the side’s successful run of results. Interestingly, it was only until one day before the opening match that she got to know that she will be leading the Indian team for the first time in her career.
“It was a truly magical moment,” she told AIFF Media in an exclusive chat, when asked about how she felt when the announcement was made. Talking about her experience of playing the captain’s role, she stated that she had a strange mix of feelings at the start.
“I was delighted and excited, but at the same time, I was extremely nervous as well since I was worried about how I would handle the team. There are players in the squad who are senior to me and so many youngsters as well – so it was a little overwhelming and tough at the start. However, all my teammates were highly cooperative and to be honest, it all flew by in a flash!,” Ashalata explained.
She added, “It was an incredible experience all in all. I am truly lucky to have such a team as captain.”
The 25-year-old also spoke about the team’s performance as a whole in the preparatory camp as well as the seven days of the tournament and expressed her satisfaction on achieving the required objective.
“The camp was very good for the team. Throughout our preparation, we had a positive frame of mind. The youngsters really worked their socks off and it is because of them that we reached the second round of the qualifiers,” she said.
She continued, “We may have lost to Myanmar but I feel we were very good in our defensive play against them as well as in the other two games. They (Myanmar) are ranked much higher than us and the way we played in that game was tremendous. We were solid at the back and the midfield supported us as well. I am satisfied with our performance.”
The centre-back reserved a special word for the coaching staff. Ashalata said, “The coaches had a major role to play for sure. The way we played was down to their expertise and guidance. They worked extremely hard on us and helped us channelize our efforts in the best manner.”
She expressed her gratitude towards the fans as well, saying, “I want to thank the Indian fans in Myanmar who especially came to the stadium to watch us play as well as all the supporters back home who cheered for us and saw our games.”
Ashalata added, “I sincerely hope that such results continue to generate more and more interest in women’s football across the country and with the support of our well-wishers, we will strive to achieve greater heights and give our best in the upcoming tournaments.”