Hero Gold Cup: Dangmei Grace, Daughter of Pastor, wants to lead Indian Women's Football Team into Olympics
In the calm and quiet neighbourhood of Ningthoukhong village in Bishnupur, about 40 kilometres from the Manipur capital Imphal, just the talk of football and Olympics is enough to lift the excitement of people's lives.
Their daughter Dangmei Grace, a winger in the Indian Women's National Football Team, has contributed to India's progress to the second round of the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers and the entire community is thrilled about what Grace can do in the Hero Gold Cup in Bhubaneswar.
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The Gold Cup is first-ever Four-Nations Tournament organised in the country featuring the Indian Women's Football Team and Grace, the only daughter of pastor Dangmei Simon, wants to win it as a sign of gratitude for her village, which supported her entry into the women's team.
"I started playing football in the year 2010," Grace told Sportskeeda in an interview. "Everyone from my village is supportive of women playing football. What's more, they have also helped me reach where I am today (and I am thankful for it). My father is a pastor and mother a housewife. My youngest brother also plays football and even a cousin of mine from the same place."
You could say Dangmei Grace didn't choose football, football rather chose her. From playing for fun in the streets of Manipur, Grace has made it to the big stage. And all this was because of a few good vibes she received from senior players in the national side.
"I took up football seriously after playing a local tournament," Grace said. "This resulted in me making the Indian squad for a U-14 festival in Sri Lanka. I started playing football seriously after this."
But second thoughts remained.
"When I first joined the senior camp in 2013 in Pune, I saw the way that the seniors were playing. The way they played and the way they behaved inspired me to take up football as a profession."
Now, there's no looking back. Grace has established herself as the most reliable winger for India in the women's team, scoring 3 crucial goals in the team's five-game winning streak. Grace struck a brace against Hong Kong and followed it up with another goal against Indonesia in recent friendlies.
"I think the friendly matches against Hong Kong and Indonesia was helpful for me to keep up the positive thinking for the upcoming matches," Grace said.
Quick bites: "I think the most serious person in the team is goalkeeper and captain Aditi Chauhan. whenever we're unable to score, she shouts at us from the goal - 'girls you can do it, girls you can do it'. Even in training, she asks us to believe in ourselves and motivates us.
"I think the prankster in the team is Ratanbala Devi. She troubles the physio ma'am a lot in the physio room."
In the Hero Gold Cup, India play Iran, Myanmar and Nepal - teams that have qualified for the second round of the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers.
India have never made the second round of the qualifiers and these matches will provide the women competitive match experience for the bigger tournaments later this year.
"I am happy that we are hosting the Hero Gold Cup because it's the first time that such a tournament is happening in India," Grace, 22, said. "We can prove that we are far better than the other teams.
"I always say that making the second round of the Olympic Qualifiers was a big achievement because it was the first time that Indian women have gone that far.
"It is good for us to face these teams in the Hero Gold Cup. From these matches, we can gain the confidence to face stronger teams in Round 2 of the Olympic qualifiers in April."
Quick bites: "Udanta Singh is my favourite in the men's team. I like the way he plays. He possesses everything that a right winger should have. That makes me admire him a lot."
Grace says that the Indian football team still has some work to do before the Olympic Qualifiers in April. The first thing on their minds is winning the Hero Gold Cup.
"First of all, my target is to win the Hero Gold Cup and then the SAFF Championship in March. We can then take on the qualification for the second round," Grace said.
"As a team, we should continue working hard on our mistakes and keep motivating ourselves with positive thoughts for the challenges, which we'll face in the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers Round 2 in April."