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AFC Women's Asian Cup

Shilky Devi, Sumathi & more - Four footballers who missed a World Cup but are on the verge of realising an Asian dream

2:14 PM IST 20/01/22
Shilky devi
Four girls from the U-17 squad have made it to the senior AFC Women's Asian Cup squad...

The FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup was scheduled to be held in 2020 which was later postponed. The tournament was supposed to be held in November 2020 initially, only for the pandemic to force a postponement. FIFA then were forced to cancel the tournament. However, the next edition of the tournament (2022) was, in turn, handed to India.

However, the problem for India was that preparations were in full swing under the guidance of head coach Thomas Dennerby. The Swedish coach was working with 30 cadets and the final 23-member squad was also finalised. Now a completely new squad has to be assembled for the 2022 edition as most of the players have exceeded the age limit.

Needless to say that the cancellation was a huge disappointment for the entire batch. However, Shilky Devi, Priyangka Devi, Mariyammal Balamurugan, and Sumati Kumari will get to realise their dream of participating in a major international tournament in the upcoming AFC Women's Asian Cup.

They were deemed good enough to make the step up to the senior team.

Let us take a look at the four of them in a bit more detail.

Shilky Devi (Defender)

At the age of 16 years and 2 months, Shilky Devi will be the youngest player in the 2022 edition of the continental tournament. The young defender holds a lot of promise and will be looking to make a mark in the tournament.

It was a supportive father in Hemam Suresh Singh, a football fan who helped his daughter pursue the sport professionally.

In her childhood, she used to play with boys as there were not many girls in her village who would play football. After a couple of years, she moved to SAI (Sports Authority of India) Imphal and trained there for one year. However, she soon stepped into the professional setup and started playing for Langthabal Club in Manipur where she was trained by coach Surmala. Shilky began as a striker and scoring goals was her bread and butter.

In the Sub Junior Girls National Football Championship 2018-19, she scored the winner against Odisha to help Manipur lift the title. Her goal scoring prowess continued in the international arena as well and the India U15 team rode on skipper Shilky’s hattrick to kick-start its 2018 SAFF U-15 Championship campaign by thumping Sri Lanka 12-0. In the semi-finals, she scored once again to beat Bhutan 1-0 and seal a berth in the final. She ended the tournament as the joint top-scorer and India won the championship. 

However, under Dennerby she has transformed herself into a defender and from scoring goals, she is mastering the art of stopping forwards in their tracks. 

"I loved to score goals and I would copy Neymar's celebration. But right now I like to follow Sergio Ramos since I am playing as a centre back," she had previously stated to Goal.

Priyangka Devi (Midfielder)

Priyangka, a goalscoring midifelder, is known for her accurate passing skills. She was awarded the most valuable player trophy of the 2018 SAFF U-15 Women's Championship. She also has a habit of scoring goals in crucial moments. She found the net thrice in India U-17 tour of Hong Kong. She even scored the winner in India's 1-0 win over Romania in a U-17 friendly match. Priyangka continued her brilliant form at the 2021 SAFF U-19 Women's Championship and was the top scorer with four goals. 

Mariyammal Balamurugan (Forward)

Mariyammal is a product of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu’s (SDAT). She was born into a financially humble family and could not afford to buy kits and boots. Her parents worked at a handloom firm in Salem. When she was in class VIII, she joined SDAT, Namakkal. Her coach Gokila supported her dreams and helped her with the bare necessities.

Mariyammal scored 12 goals in the U-17 national championship for Tamil Nadu which helped the national team selectors spot her. Her brother is also a football aficionado and has supported her throughout.

Sumathi Kumari (Forward)

The 18-year-old left-winger hails from the Londra village in the Gumla district of Jharkhand and is known for pace and creativity in the attacking third. She loves to whip in crosses and the Indian strikers will be waiting eagerly for her inch-perfect deliveries. Sumathi also had her fair share of struggles. Before the U15 SAFF Women's Championship, she received the news that her mother has expired. However, she did not go home and instead boarded the flight to Thimpu. She went on to score two goals and also India won the championship.

She is the youngest of six siblings and was born into a family of farmers. She started playing football in her local village with the boys of the community. She was supported by a local school principal, Fr. Ramu Vincent, who went the distance to make her successful. She scored 17 goals in the Junior Girls' NFC 2019-20 in Kolhapur and finished as the top scorer. She made her senior national team debut against Tunisia in 2021.

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