Shveta Rani, the latest dreamer from Alakhpura

KATHMANDU, NEPAL: It’s no secret that over the last few years, Alakhpura, a small village in the Bhiwani district of Haryana, has made its name synonymous with women’s football. Indian senior women’s team regulars Sanju Yadav and Ritu Rani are household names, inspiring and making hundreds of young girls dream in a state where football is far from a popular sport. One of those is Shveta Rani, captain of the Indian U16 women’s team currently participating in the SAFF U16 Women’s Championship, whose dreams are starting to take flight.

Shveta is a left winger, so obviously, Sanju Yadav had to be the one she looks up to. “My big inspiration is Sanju didi,” the 15-year-old prompted in a heartbeat when asked. “I also like Manisha Kalyan, since we play in the same position, and Anju Tamang. Shilky Devi too, with how her career has progressed – from an U17 player to now being a regular with the senior team.”

But Shveta would not be one of those dreamers had it not been for her father, who made her play the sport. “I didn’t develop an interest in football on my own. It was my father who used to push me to go and play with the village kids on the ground in the evenings. I was 12 years old. I didn’t like it initially, but he continued to urge me daily. Gradually, I got the hang of it, and that’s how I started playing,” she explained.

But one thing she never doubted about was her playing position. Left wing. “I have been playing on the left since I started,” she said. Shveta was selected to represent her state and also played in the U17 Subroto Cup for the Government Senior Secondary School, Alakhpura, in 2022. The following year would be her breakthrough year. She played in the Junior Girls National Football Championship Tier 1, scoring three goals for Haryana. Internationally, she was selected in the Indian U17 squad which toured Jordan and subsequently played the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers Round 1 in Kyrgyzstan. From being one of the youngest in that batch, she is now one of the most experienced in the current U16 batch.

That’s why she was handed the captain’s armband by head coach Biby Thomas. With players as young as 12 and 13 years old in the team, there’s more responsibility on the pitch on Shveta’s shoulders. She demonstrated that quite well on Friday, scoring India’s first goal in the 7-0 thrashing of Bhutan in the tournament opener.

“It was everyone’s first international match, so from that perspective, we played well. Our aim is to not just win the trophy, but play good football and do it. It’s nice to start on the right footing. We are adjusting quite nicely to the conditions here – the pitch and the weather,” she said.

Shveta is a physical winger, with good ball control and positional sense. But her biggest asset is likely her crossing ability. She is the primary set-piece taker of the team, and it was her inswinging corner which was headed in by Anushka Kumari for India’s fifth goal. She formed a good partnership with left-back Rupashree Munda and attacking midfielder Anushka, but believes they can be smoother.

“I think yesterday, we did okay, but I know we can be much better in offensive transitions. We have done better in training, and I’m sure we’ll improve with every match.

“We also know that this tournament is just the beginning of our young careers. We want to make India proud and there’s a lot yet to achieve. But for now, all our minds are on making every game count and winning the trophy.

Also Read: “Reliance Foundation Development League is a great platform for players to get the opportunity to play with ISL clubs”: Sudeva Delhi FC Head Coach Chencho Dorji

Also Read: Chennaiyin FC beat Odisha FC, stop unbeaten streak and open up the league table wide open

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