Manipur’s Ratnabala Devi bagged the ‘Player of the Match’ title during the Indian Women’s League match played in Ludhiana on Sunday Credit: Twitter

Ludhiana: Manipur footballer N Ratanbala Devi hogged the limelight once again when she scored a hat-trick for her team, Sethu FC, in a match against FC Kolhapur City in the ongoing Indian Women’s League (IWL) in Ludhiana on Sunday.

With the scintillating performance by the Manipur girl, Sethu FC demolished FC Kolhapur City 9-0 at the Guru Nanak Stadium. Even before completion of the half-and-hour of the match, Ratanbala scored in two quick successions to make the scoreline 4-0. She completed her hat-trick as well, with a little over 10 minutes of regulation time to go, as she finished off a pass from Sandhiya to make it 9-0 for Sethu FC.

Manipur’s Ratanbala Devi is considered as one of the most exciting prospects among the 20-member Indian squad during the 2020 AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

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Part of the India U-19 setup two years ago, she earned a senior team cap in April last year and has since become a regular fixture in the squad. Hailing from Manipur, Ratanbala’s versatility makes her a valuable asset for coach Maymol Rocky – her skill and tenacity making her stand out.

In an exclusive interview with one of the publications of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), she said, “I have played in almost all positions over the years. My best position, I feel, is as a striker but I will play wherever the coach wants me to.”

Ratanbala has come a long way from her humble beginnings in Imphal, Manipur. “In our village, I used to play football with boys. From there, I started playing for Chaoba ma’am’s (assistant coach Chaoba Devi Langam) club in the state and then with KRYPSA,” she explained.

The youngster, who idolises Lionel Messi and Marta, also spoke about the role played by her family in her rise. “My parents were always supportive of me playing football and always encouraged me to do my best. My uncle, who has also been a football player, also supported me greatly,” she informed.

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This was Ratanbala’s second consecutive hat-trick in the ongoing IWL. On Friday, she scored a hat-trick against SAI-STC Cuttack to keep her team at the top of Group II in the league.

Ratanbala scored in the fourth, 29th and 88th minutes to take Sethu FC to a massive win.

On Sunday, however, it was not Ratanbala alone, Sabitra Bhandari of Nepal also scored a hat-trick for Sethu FC in their convincing win over FC Kolhapur City.

Sethu’s Nepal international player scored the hat-trick in 20 minutes, starting with the 57th minute of the match. The second goal by Sabitra was a slick team move that was started off by Sandhiya. Sabitra linked up well with Sandhiya, who squared the ball back to her inside the box for the Nepal international to score.

This edition of the Indian Women’s League will be the largest season with as many as 12 teams participating. The teams have been divided into two groups of six each. The teams will play each other once and the top two from each group will advance to the semifinal.

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The semi-finals and finals will be held on May 20 and May 22, respectively.

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