Sky’s the limit for India’s Bala Devi in 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers!

“We are looking forward to playing the underdog card and we believe we can stun the heavyweights,” exclaims India captain Ngangom Bala Devi.

The declaration by the Manipur Police Sports Club player is an indication of the defiant and spirited determination that exists within the South Asian side’s camp as they prepare for the uphill battle of taking on world heavyweights North Korea in their 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers Group B opener in Pyongyang on Monday, April 3.

“We have been drawn in a tough group against some of the best teams in women’s football. It will be a very tough and challenging game against North Korea. We will have to be on our toes and there can be no room for complacency,” added Bala Devi.

The 27-year-old, who will be leading India’s frontline for the second consecutive qualifying campaign, has been a significant figure in the women’s game in India since bursting onto the scene in 2002.

Having represented India at both U-17 and U-19 levels, Bala Devi cemented her place in the hearts of the country’s faithful by playing a central role in the four SAFF Women’s Championship titles and two South Asian Games golds India have won over the last seven years.

“It is an honour and at the same time, a responsibility to be a recognised ambassador of the women’s game in India,” revealed Bala Devi who regards fellow Manipur and India legend, Oinam Bembem Devi as her inspiration.

“A responsibility because it is your job to stay at the top of your game, to be the best and always give everything on the pitch, so that you can motivate others who see you play.”

Her rise to the top has not been without its challenges however, particularly in a region where the men’s game is still competing with cricket to be the most popular sport. Despite the twists and turns in her journey, Bala Devi is encouraged by the progress of women’s football in India, and remains optimistic about the future.

“There were not a lot of opportunities to play football as a girl when I was a player in my early days, but thankfully, that has changed now.”

“The Indian Women’s League that the All India Football Federation launched this year has been a major step in improving women’s football in India. There is a craze amongst girls when it comes to football in India and that is something which makes you hopeful,” adds the full-time law enforcer with the Manipur Police Department.

“It is my dream to see India play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the future. We have progressed a lot in the last couple of years and if we continue to invest the time and hard work, I am sure we can reach that stage.”

With Bala Devi leading the way, India’s dream could someday become a reality and she is keen to impart her knowledge and experience to India’s up and coming stars. “At the grassroots level, my advice to young girls is to enjoy the game because that is what football is all about. It lets you express yourself in the best possible way.

“But, if they want to become a professional player, they need to work hard day in and day out. There is no alternative to hard work and dedication.”

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