- Dangmei Grace was India’s Emerging Player of the Year in 2019
- Goalscorer has helped Blue Tigresses to regional gold medals
- Attacker aims to help India qualify for maiden FIFA Women's World Cup
Every youngster has a role model to look up to. Indian forward Dangmei Grace, luckily, has a role model with whom she can train and play alongside.
The young attacker is indeed among India’s hottest prospects following some brilliant displays for both club and country last year. She scored eight times to fire Sethu FC to the 2019 Indian Women's League title and at international level, she figured significantly in India's title-winning campaigns at both the 2019 SAFF Women's Championship and 2019 South Asian Games. These showings saw her earn last year's AIFF Emerging Player of the Year award.
And the star she admires is none other than her national team-mate Ngangom Bala Devi who made a high-profile move to Scottish Women's Premier League side Rangers at the start of this year.
"Bala di [Devi] is a huge role model for me," the 24-year-old told FIFA.com. "The way she plays and motivates us is very inspiring.
"Her signing with Rangers will be a massive boost for all of us. If she can play for such a big club, it means that we can follow in her footsteps if we keep working hard and reach her level. She provides us with enormous inspiration."
Devi's success has definitely encouraged Grace to dream big with the player now seriously hoping to join her long-time favourite club, Chelsea.
"Every one of us aspires to play in Europe someday. For me, I have followed Chelsea, both their men's and women's teams. Whenever I have time, I really enjoy watching their play on YouTube. And their women's team already have an Asian player in Ji Soyun from South Korea. She is doing quite well and I like their playing style very much.
"I would love to join them if I get the chance. It has been a dream of mine for a long time and I know that I have to keep working hard if I am to make it happen."
Meteoric rise to fame
Born in 1996 in a village in Manipur, Grace started playing football with a local boys' team when she was 14. Each day her team began training at 3:30 leaving her just half an hour to make it on time after school.
"I had to hurry home to dress and then run two kilometres to join the team for training on time," she recalled.
Grace joined KRYPHSA (Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association) in 2012 and under the guidance of Chaoba Devi Langam, the raw diamond was quickly transformed into a promising player.
The progress Grace made was such that the next year saw her make the international debut with the senior national team in an AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifier against Palestine. She has subsequently clocked up 38 international appearances and managing to score 13 times.
In a sense, Grace announced her emergence on the regional scene in last year's AFF Women's Championship, netting three goals en route to the title. Notably, with India and Nepal locked at 1-1 into the second half of the final, Grace rose to the occasion to restore their lead and set her side on the path to a 3-1 win.
"It was my best campaign so far," she said. "For me, my best memory was the final. The rivals were hosts Nepal who had defeated us in the Hero Gold Cup. And the stadium was packed with their supporters chanting them forward. It was a big challenge.
"In the pre-match meeting, all of us-both players and managerial staff were very emotional when we made the resolution that we must win. Everyone was encouraged to give her all and win the title for our country. That was why we came out strong and won even after it was 1-1. I was happy that I scored the second goal."
Grace rounded off last year by scoring twice to help India win gold at the 2019 South Asian Games. "Our team has gone from strength to strength and our level of play has been improving. At South Asian level, we have shown that we are the top team.”
Dreaming big for 2023
Despite their regional dominance, however, India has made little impression on the global stage and are yet to qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup™. But with the nation hosting qualifiers for the 2023 edition of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand - the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup – India hopes of maiden qualification are heightened.
"As hosts, if we start preparing from now with that target, there is a chance that we can qualify for the World Cup,” Grace said. “All of us need to come together, keep a positive mindset and work hard as a team and our World Cup dream will come true.
"The women's team has been improving rapidly in the last few years thanks to the support by AIFF. We have played many international matches against strong opponents and have gained a lot of international experiences. We will continue to grow. We compete against the best teams in Asia today and the world in the near future. And if we can succeed [in qualifying], it will bring about a big change to the women's game in India.”