Chennai: In the 2019 SAFF Championship Final against Nepal, a 21-year-old Indian girl left the spectators awestruck with a stunning free-kick from 35 yards that crashed against the net.
In no time, the National team defender, who answers to the call of Dalima Chhibber, turned out to be a huge hit with the fans because of her steady performances for the Blue Tigresses. While the coaches often designate Dalima as the backbone of the defence, the fans love to portray her as the ‘poster girl of Indian football’.
Dalima had been a prominent member of the Indian National teams in various age groups since 2011 before making her debut with the Senior team in 2016. Since then, she has won the SAFF Championship twice, in 2016 and 2019, and the Gold Medal at the South Asian Games in 2016.
At the club level, Dalima played a prominent role in Gokulam Kerala’s Hero Indian Women’s League triumph in the 2021-22 season. She then moved to play for the Manitoba Bisons in the Canada West Universities Premier Division in 2019.
The right-back was on National duty during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 in Mumbai and then played the WU23 3-Nation tournament in Sweden in June 2022 before moving back to Canada again. After a seven-month stint in Canada, the 25-year-old is back with the Senior National team, preparing for the Olympic Qualifiers in April. The Blue Tigresses are currently training at the SSN Ground in Chennai for the Olympic Qualifiers.
Dalima spoke with www.the-aiff.com about her return to India, her experiences with the National Team, current preparations, and many other topics.
Q: So, now that all of you are back in the National camp, how are you feeling?
A: It’s a great feeling. You always feel good to be back in camp. We are together after a long break for the first time since we toured Sweden. Some new girls have also come in. I am really excited to be back here. We have Mr Thomas (Dennerby), our head coach, and it’s a great feeling to be back on the field with him. A lot of other girls on the Indian team, with whom we have played for many years, are back. It’s amazing to see them again. You get to share the field, and all those old memories and jokes. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: Two top coaches – Thomas Dennerby and Maymol Rocky – are around here to guide you all. How do you feel about it?
A: It has been a fantastic experience so far. We played under Maymol as the head coach in 2018 and 2019. And then Thomas came when we started our preparations for the Asian Cup Qualifiers. So, I think it’s great to have them together because they form a really strong coaching team and can lead us to great success. We can learn so much from them. And now that we are training for the Olympic Qualifiers, the next two months are going to be an uphill journey, but a very good one. Both Thomas and Maymol will play big roles in shaping the National team.
Q: Do you share your vast experience with the newcomers in the camp?
A: When I shifted to Canada, the biggest challenge was coming out of my comfort zone. And I know how difficult this journey can be. So, I fully understand the predicament of a newcomer in the camp, as she may feel a little out of place or not know how to deal with certain situations. Yes, as a senior player, I try to help when a lot of young girls come in. I’m able to communicate better because I’ve been through such situations before.
Q: Your teammates – Bala Devi, Sangita Basfore, Karthika Angamuthu, and Jabamani Tudu – are back in the camp. How happy are you about it?
A: I remember somebody asking me about my feelings when I was coming to this camp. And the first thing I said was how happy I was just because a lot of my teammates, who had been a part of this team and were missing at some point for some reason or another, were back. They bring in a lot of experience to this team. Bala has played in Europe. Sangita has been playing for the country for so many years. Even players like Jaba and Karthika also have valuable experience that they bring to the team. Olympic Qualifiers are such an important tournament and having missed out on the opportunity in the Asian Cup, I think it is very good to have everybody together now. It will bring lots of confidence to the table.
Q: You have played and won the SAFF Championships twice. What’s your message to the U-20 girls who will be playing in the SAFF U-20 Championship next week?
A: You girls are doing amazing things, and each one of you is a great player – the finest lot in the country. So, when you go out on the field, have fun, be aware that you’re representing your country, and be proud of it. Never forget what Thomas always says: Don’t fear anybody and respect your opponents. When your best performances come out, it will automatically lead to winning games.