Ranchi, Aug. 23: Will Pushpa Tirkey be able to do a Bigan Soy?
She is the latest sporting pride of Jharkhand, a quiet, 18-year-old goalkeeper from a humble home in Gumla who has become the first-ever female player from the tribal heartland to bag a berth in the senior Indian soccer squad for Asian Games.
The good news came in today, as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced the SAI-Ranchi cadet’s name along with 21 others for the Indian women’s national team ahead of the XVII Asian Games scheduled to be held at Incheon, South Korea, from September 19 to October 4.
Pushpa, who is pursuing Plus Two at Bariatu Government Girls’ School in Ranchi, is one of the three goalkeepers in the team along with Manipur’s Okram Roshni Devi and Delhi’s Aditi Chauhan.
She, along with her team, is leaving for China tomorrow from Mumbai for a 15-day exposure tour till September 9. Thereafter, the team will proceed to Incheon.
Coming from a humble family — parents Marcus Tirkey and Madila Tirkey are farmers — Pushpa joined SAI-Ranchi in 2012. Last year, she won silver in the U-19 National School Games Football Championship held in Pune and also represented the U-18 School World Cup in France.
Pushpa’s slow rise to sporting glory is similar to Chaibasa’s Bigan Soy, another goalie with equally humble roots who made Jharkhand proud by playing a part in India’s historic bronze win against England in the women’s junior Hockey World Cup, 2013, in Germany.
Sports Authority of India (SAI), Ranchi in-charge, S.K. Verma hailed Pushpa’s inclusion in the team as another feather in Jharkhand’s cap, saying that this was the first time a girl from the tribal state had bagged a berth in the national soccer squad.
“It should be seen as a great achievement as it will boost the prospects of football in the entire state. Also, for SAI-Ranchi, this is the first time that our player got selected in Team India.
Though players from Jharkhand have been regularly making a mark in hockey and cricket, gaining a spot in football team is a new precedent,” Verma told The Telegraph from Delhi.
The final team selection for Asiad was done on the basis of special preparatory camps held in Mumbai from July 11. Thirty-five probables from across the country were called before the final screening. Besides Pushpa, a midfielder from Jharkhand, Sunita Marandi, was also selected for the preparatory camp.
However, she did not find a place in the final team.
“Sunita is a highly skilled midfielder. It is unfortunate that she missed a berth this time. Still, we are proud that she was among the 35 probables,” said Verma.
According to AIFF, India will play three practice matches against top teams of the Chinese Women’s Super League — Jiangsu Huatai and Shanghai SVT. The two teams are currently placed second and third, respectively, in the League table. One of the two teams will play India twice on August 29, September 2/3 and September 5/6.
The last time an Indian women’s team competed in Asian Games football was in 1998 where they were eliminated in the group stage.
This time, India have been placed in Group A along with South Korea, Thailand and Maldives.