With an eye on the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next year, the India team head coach, Maymol Rocky, is keen to integrate promising young talent with experienced heads. To begin with, midfield stalwart Sangita Basfore will be working closely with the talented Martina Thokchom, who has been brought into the senior side from the U-17 team. In fact, Thokchom, who hails from Manipur, has started feeling the change in mind-set and is keen on giving it her best shot when India take on Uzbekistan and Belarus on April 5 and 8, respectively. “When I first joined, I was quite nervous, but they (the seniors) welcomed me nicely and made me feel comfortable. They helped me both on and off the field, which helped me feel like a part of the team,” Thokchom said ahead of the friendly against Uzbekistan.
For Thokchom, though, the transition has been tough but worth the effort.
“I miss my under-17 team-mates a lot but here everyone is elder to me, so I get to learn from their experience,” says the player from Manipur.
On the upcoming friendlies, Thokchom says, she is looking forward to the challenge of facing a higher-ranked opponent, “Uzbekistan is a higher-ranked country (FIFA ranking 41) and we’re going to play in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next year so these friendlies are very important. These matches are going to be very challenging for us. We can use them to prepare for big competitions next year.”
For Basfore, who captained the team in the three friendlies in Turkey recently, working with youngsters like Thokchom has been a “great experience”. “I’m feeling good because young players like Thokchom are coming into the team. It’s easy for us to develop an understanding with them. And they are technically well-equipped on the field because they’ve played so many exposure matches. The team is looking more dynamic and energetic with them.”
Basfore, though, concedes that the lockdown was tough on the players. “Initially we had issues because in lockdown we practiced individually. And when we came together, it was tough to understand each other, but gradually we bonded together as a team and developed a sense of unity. Then we travelled to Turkey for an exposure tour where we had the chance to play against three higher-ranked teams. This helped strengthen our unity even more. That benefited our team a lot and it should show in the match against Uzbekistan,” said Basfore.
Speaking about her experiences when she was a junior and made the transition to the senior team, Basfore said, “I was a junior when I entered the national team. I used to watch and follow everything that the senior players did or didn’t do, learning from them about what I needed to do on and off the field. Then, slowly, I evolved into a senior player and even got the captaincy in Turkey.”
Basfore captained India in three friendlies — against Serbia, Russia and Ukraine — before midfielder Indumathi Kathiresan was given the armband for the friendlies against Uzbekistan and Belarus.
“That experience (of captaining the team in Turkey) was really good, I never expected it, but our coach gave it (captaincy) to me. She gave me the responsibility to lead the team and in Turkey, I fulfilled that role. I’ll also carry it forward in the future. It’s not always important to have the captain’s armband. I’ll try to motivate the young players and guide them. Now, Indumathi (Kathiresan) is the captain so with whatever experience I’ve gained, I look forward to working with her,” she said.