The Indian Women's League (IWL) has seen three different winners in three seasons, and will welcome a new winner once again when Gokulam Kerala FC locks horns with KRYPHSA in the final at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Friday.
A fourth new winner will be crowned, but there will also be a familiar face on the pitch as Gokulam's Kashmina Devi bids for a second IWL title.
"Three years ago, I hardly had any experience of playing against senior players but Bem di (Bembem Devi) got me in her team and eventually, I ended up being part of the winning side. It was something which I can never forget and I'll always thank Bem di for believing in me," Kashmina told the Alll India Football Federation's website after her side beat defending champion Sethu FC 3-0 on Monday.
Kashmina, the 24-year-old winger, was an integral member of Bembem Devi's side when Eastern Sporting Union beat Rising Students to bag the title the first edition of the IWL on February 14, 2017.
Exactly three years to the date, she will look to repeat the feat once again: "Since 14-02-2017, I have traversed a long way as a player and have made my debut for the Indian national team too, which was nothing short of a dream-come-true moment for me. It has been an exciting journey so far and hopefully, 14-02-2020 will add another glorious chapter to it."
Kashmina's father Mohd. Kashim Ali, who was a budding footballer in his childhood, has been her driving force.
"My father played in school and university-level but he dreamt bigger. He started to take me to the field and even today, he follows my game. He was my first coach and he ignited my zeal," Kashmina said. "My chhota bhai (younger brother) also plays football, he is a goalkeeper.”
Kashmina got her big breakthrough when she travelled to Delhi to play in the 2012 Subroto Cup. “After playing within Manipur, it was time to appear for the bigger test and Subroto Cup was the perfect platform. Luckily, I got selected and we went to Delhi. It was a learning experience for me that helped me a lot in future,” she said.
The winger got her first taste of international football when she was chosen for the AFC U19 Championship 2017 Qualifiers, where she scored the opening goal against Iran in the first match.
“That was a terrific experience. I suddenly found myself in front of the goal and only the goalkeeper to beat. Although the match ended in a draw, it gave us major motivation for the upcoming matches,” she said.
One year later, she made her senior national team debut against Uzbekistan during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018 qualifiers. “I never dreamt of playing for India in my wildest dreams. It was a privilege to wear the tricolour on my chest. Bala (Devi), Sasmita (Malik), Ashalata (Devi) were renowned names and sharing the pitch alongside them was something which I could never dream of,” she recalled.
Kashmina, along with the likes of Grace, Promeshwori, Kamala have combined effectively and their coordination with attacking spearhead Sabitra ‘Samba’ Bhandari has seen Gokulam go from strength to strength this IWL campaign.
“All of us are comfortable in Hindi and we never shy away from sharing our ideas on the pitch. Communication is the key to success for any team and we are no different,” she said.
Gokulam Kerala has scored 31 goals in 6 matches in its path to the final, having conceded only two goals so far.
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