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Manisha: The girl who scored a solo goal against Brazil

Many in Manisha Kalyan’s village in Punjab did not like her playing football. But for parents in her corner, maybe she would have given up. On Thursday, Kalyan, 19, became the first Indian woman footballer (and only the second Indian) to score against Brazil.

Like Komal Thatal, who had scored against a Brazil under-16 team in a BRICS boys’ tournament in 2016, Kalyan’s goal came from the left and was the equaliser that had sparked hope. Both were solo efforts.

Thatal cut in and beat two players before firing in a right-footer. Kalyan’s goal at Manaus’ Arena de Amazonia was at the end of a text book counter-attack. India goalie Aditi Chauhan parried a ball as Brazil threatened from the right. Two Indians converged to clear their lines and it was Indumathi Kathiresan who lobbed it to Priya Xaxa near the centreline. Xaxa headed it square and from inside her half, Kalyan scootered. As Brazil desperately tried to recover, the player from Hoshiarpur winged towards goal and fired an angular left-footer that left Brazil goalie Leticia Silva no chance.

“It was a dream come true for me to play against Brazil and to score against them was the icing on the cake,” Kalyan told A top-class goal, said India’s Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby. India went on to lose the match 6-1, but Kalyan’s moment of brilliance was undimmed.

On advice of a coach, Kalyan had switched from athletics to football when she was 13. Soon she was representing Punjab in age-specific competitions. A national camp call-up happened in 2018 for a BRICS under-17 competition in South Africa.

Kalyan had played Brazil there too, losing 0-5, but had scored against China. In the 2018 under-19 Asian championship qualifiers, Kalyan, who can also play striker, provided the assist in the 1-0 win against Thailand. She was picked by Priya PV for Gokulam Kerala—there are seven players from the team in Brazil —in 2017-18 and was part of the team that won the Indian Women’s League in 2019-20.

A Neymar and Ronaldinho fan, Kalyan also played in the AFC Women’s Club Championship and is the competition’s only Indian scorer. She converted a penalty in the 3-1 win against Bunyodkor; Gokulam lost 1-2 to Amman FC and 0-1 to Shahrdari Sirjan and were eliminated from the group stage.

Brazil’s line-up on Wednesday featured 43-year-old Formiga, who has played seven World Cups and as many Olympics. Miraildes Maciel Mota is called Formiga because in Portuguese it means ant; the nickname stemmed from her playing style of covering every inch of the pitch. The 43-year-old came on 10 minutes from time and had a shot that crashed into the horizontal. This was Formiga’s last match and Marta— Brazil’s top goalscorer among men and women with 112 goals— led the tributes. The India team gave Formiga a signed shirt in what was her 234th international in a 26-year career.

“To be on the same pitch as her (Formiga) was a big deal. I hope we can learn from this experience and do better in the next game,” said Kalyan.

Marta didn’t play on Wednesday but the squad had eight who were at the Tokyo Olympics. India play Chile and Venezuela next in this four-nation competition.

This tournament is part of India’s preparation for next year’s Asian Championships. India have played games in UAE, Bahrain and Sweden before this to make up for time lost due to Covid-19 which led to the women’s league being cancelled last season.

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