Didn’t know what a passport was till my first India call-up: Sunita Munda

Hardly anyone was surprised when Sunita Munda was called for the National camp for the AFC U-14 regional championship in 2016. 

Even before turning 14, Munda had proved to be a remarkable talent on the pitch, possessing all the necessary skills to blossom into a fine striker. Her coaches never doubted her ability.

However, the girl from Jonha village in Jharkhand had one ‘drawback’. As a prolific goalscorer, Sunita knew how to beat a defensive trap or catch the rival goalkeeper on the wrong foot, but had no idea about the importance of a passport. When the team management asked her to submit her passport Sunita looked at them blankly. 

“To be honest, I did not know what a passport meant back then,” Sunita told the-aiff.com on Friday, January 27, 2023. “I went back home from the camp to apply and get my passport and flew to Tajikistan to play in the AFC U-14 Regional Championship.” 

“I have learned new things while staying in different camps. Hailing from remote villages, many of us were unaware of some basic facilities needed to play football, like boots, quality footballs, regular physical exercises, and even proper food. Slowly we learned about these things after attending the camps and learned their importance,” she said.

Despite being oblivious to urban staples, Sunita was armed with an advantage few girls her age receive in the country — the full backing of her family to pursue her love for football.

Her father, who played the game in his youth, took her to the field when she was marking her nascent steps in the game. He had never made it to the professional level but wanted his daughter to fulfill his dreams.  

“I learned the fundamentals from him. Now I want him to see me wearing the senior National team colours someday. That is something I have to do to fulfill my father’s dream,” said Sunita. 

“Getting this far wasn’t easy for me, but I have a family who have supported me throughout,” she said. “It is what has enabled me to become a National team footballer.”

Sunita has proved to be a key player for the team ever since joining the national setup in 2016 scoring goals across various age group competitions. The 19-year-old forward also played a key role for the Indian Arrows in the Indian Women’s League (IWL) last year. 

A vital force of the Young Tigresses team, she is currently preparing with them at the Home Games Sports Arena in Chennai for the forthcoming SAFF U-20 Championship, to be played in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from February 3–9, 2023. 

It is evident, upon the observation that Sunita has an old head on young shoulders. When discussing her goals, she speaks with maturity and calm. “To score goals for the country is the best thing a striker can do and it always makes the player feel special. When I got to know that I won’t be a part of the U-17 Women’s World Cup squad, I felt disappointed but to find my friends from the state, Astam, and Nitu on the team, made me feel proud. And now they are my teammates,” Sunita says, smiling. 

The U-20 Women’s and Senior Women’s National teams are training under Maymol Rocky and Thomas Dennerby, respectively, at Chennai and both coaches are keeping a close watch on the players and their training for the upcoming tournaments. 

Sunita believes the opportunity to train under these two coaches has helped her immensely. “Thomas sir and Maymol Ma’am help us a lot every day. They have taught us some important things like the correct positioning of a player in different situations, the different attacking skills a striker should have etc. I am trying to keep my focus and train hard as winning SAFF U-20 in Dhaka next month is everyone’s prime target right now.”

Also Read: A tale of two footballers and their fight against gender bias

Also Read: Emotional to be back in the national camp after so long, says Bala Devi

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