Guwahati: Playing her third international match, Manipur’s Sibani Devi gave glimpses of her potential when she pumped in the all-important goal to help the Indian Under-17 team register a 1-0 win over hosts Kyrgyz Republic in their opening match of the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers Indonesia 2024.

Hailing from Pukhao, located around 25 km from the state capital of Imphal, Sibani comes from a football-loving family with one of her two brothers, already representing India at the Under-17 level and now part of the Indian Under-19 camp.

“I started playing football at high school in 2019, my father was my first coach. It’s good to have a father as a coach but then sometimes it’s bad (laughs),” Sibani had said.

“My family, including my two brothers, have always been very supportive of my decision to pursue sports. My brother played for the Indian Under-17 team, now he is in the India U-19 camp. When I was selected for the national team, we were very happy. I trained for a month and played a few practice matches. The coaches were very supportive and I learnt a lot from them,” she said in a video uploaded by the AIFF.

Manipur’s Sibani Devi scored in the 77th minute to help India U-17 girls get one step closer to top the group

On Thursday, the teenager enthralled the handful of Indians at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium in Bishkek by displaying superb match awareness in the 77th minute, and helped India pocket the contest. It was a low cross from the left by Viksit Bara that slipped under the hands of Kyrgyz goalkeeper Violetta Dudochkina before Sibani raced at the far post and slammed it in.

With Myanmar and India both winning 1-0 each against the Kyrgyz Republic, the next match between India and Myanmar on April 28 will determine the group winners. While the winners of the tie will automatically make the grade, and if the two sides play out a draw, a penalty shoot-out will determine who tops the group and qualifies for the next round.

The initial few minutes of the contest witnessed an even contest with both sides trying to gain the upper hand before India had their first chance when Pooja’s cross from the right landed up with Shivani Toppo, who failed to capitalise. A few minutes later, a similar opportunity was missed by Pooja, whose shot was easily collected by the rival goalkeeper.

India had another chance to open the scoresheet before halftime when Shivani’s corner was parried away by the keeper, who punched the ball before Pooja could avail herself of the opportunity.

After the breather, India had their best chance in the 65th minute to break the deadlock when Viksit Bara unleashed a curler but couldn’t find the target. A few minutes later, Sibani pounced on a loose ball and her shot went straight into the goalkeeper’s hands before she eventually made it count in the 77th minute.

Down by a goal, pressure began to mount on the hosts, who made several desperate attempts to net the ball. With 10 minutes to go, Indian Under-17 team coach Priya PV cleverly made a few changes with Sulanjana replacing Shivani Toppo and Mizoram’s Cindy Remruatpuii coming in place of Soniba. 

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The move paid dividends as India was able to defend the lead successfully for the rest of the contest.

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