Panthoi craving for Myanmar challenge after Aussie sojourn

NEW DELHI: Panthoi Chanu Elangbam has returned to India as fresh as the Southern Sea breeze after a three-month stint with Metro United WFC in the South Australian National Women’s Premier League in Australia.

Panthoi is the first Indian footballer to play in a competitive league Down Under, a significant achievement in the annals of Indian women’s football.

Back in the Indian senior national women’s team camp in Kolkata, the seasoned custodian is now busy preparing for the two-match friendly tour of Myanmar next week. The two matches in the FIFA Window will be played on July 9 and 12.

“I am feeling really good about coming back to India. It feels like I haven’t been here for a long time. I have received another opportunity to represent my country. It’s a great feeling. Also, this is my first time coming from abroad to play for India. I feel excited,” Panthoi told from Kolkata. 

Panthoi had a busy schedule during her stint with Metro United WFC. She played 13 matches and when asked to share her experience, Panthoi said, “The playing style is different in Metro United, especially the game speed. Every match seemed like a high-intensity game with various situations. 

“As a goalkeeper, sometimes I had to don the role of a defender, too, like slightly moving forward, and playing in the defensive line to stop the ball. The goalkeeper does not just stand in one position but is expected to be involved in the combination. After the goalkeeper coach’s training sessions, we used to have individual goalkeeping practice, which was helpful as I could focus on my timing, especially in game situations,” Panthoi said.

Many Indian players who play their trade abroad often share stories of feeling homesick or having difficulty adjusting to new environments. However, Panthoi’s experience was nothing like this. She confronted every challenge directly, from overcoming the language barrier to grasping the game’s nuances. She demonstrated strength and adaptability throughout her journey.

“We had one match every week, each with different and challenging opponents. Some teams played long balls; others restored to ground passes. I adapted the game style every day in every match. There was little time between matches, but I am happy to have improved my game. Winning and losing are part of the sport. The team effort, ball presence, and studying the ball were much more important to me. The main focus was studying the opponents, a skill I developed a lot in Australia. 

“Metro United WFC is a hugely professional club. There were people from India who came to watch the matches, and they often invited me to dinner, but due to time constraints, I couldn’t always go. My teammates would often advice me about places where I could go and eat. They were always helpful.

“The main challenge was the language barrier, but I picked up the language in between training. The climate was different, so we trained at night to adjust. Matches were played late at night, often under windy and cloudy conditions, but I didn’t face any issues,” Panthoi added. 

Just two days after returning to India, Panthoi joined the Blue Tigresses training at the National Centre of Excellence in Kolkata. She believes in the team’s improvement and is eager to share the knowledge and experience she gained in Australia to assist her teammates.

She said, “Australian football is different, and I learned a lot from my time there. The main change I noticed was the emphasis on moving forward in the defensive line to help my teammates. I think individual performance is also key. We have some junior players in the camp this time, and we help them every day.

“There is good competition in the camp,” she says. “We communicate and sort things out in between ourselves. There is learning from both sides. We have five goalkeepers here, and we also learn from the juniors. The fighting spirit among the players in the camp creates healthy competition. We don’t act like seniors; we see everyone as younger sisters and motivate each other. If anyone has doubts, they ask, and we also do the same if we want to change anything in the practice sessions.” 

The 28-year-old goalkeeper, who has been part of the India national team since 2014, has witnessed all the ups and downs in the women’s team in the last one decade.

“Conditions in the Indian football camp have improved drastically, whether it is accommodation, facilities, food, or the ground conditions. The bonding among us has also grown significantly because of the game time we are getting in these FIFA friendly matches.”

Panthoi has watched videos of Myanmar’s games and is aware of their style of play. “Myanmar plays short passes. I believe our central defensive line is perhaps stronger. Our effort would be to win both matches.

“The game situations in Asian women’s football are more or less the same. We are prepared. We played one practice match and performed well. We will play another one in the coming week,” Panthoi said.

Also Read: Global interest peaks for India’s Football Head Coach role as AIFF receives 291 applications

Also Read: Blue Tigers to play Tri-Nation friendly tournament in Vietnam in October

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