The 20-member Indian squad competing at the 2020 AFC Women’s Olympic qualifying tournament has a number of youngsters and fresh faces, and perhaps one of the most exciting prospects among the lot is 19-year-old forward Ratanbala Devi.

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.

“I have played in almost all positions over the years,” explained Ratanbala. She added: “My best position, I feel, is as a striker but I will play where ever the coach wants me to.”

She came on as a second-half substitute in midfield in India’s opening match against Nepal on Thursday and made an instant difference as she provided much-needed solidity in the centre of the pitch.

“I am happy that Maymol ma’am backed me to play against Nepal. She asked me to play in midfield and focus on the defensive side of things and regaining possession for the team. I tried to attack as well but the instructions from the coach had to be adhered to,” she joked with a beaming smile.

It was just the fourth appearance in senior colours for Ratanbala, who 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 idolizes 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.

Team India drew its first match of the tournament and will now face Bangladesh on Sunday in what will be a crunch match for either side. Talking about the game, Ratanbala said: “The idea is to learn from our previous match against Nepal and focus on our stronger points against Bangladesh. We need to pick up those three points.”