The India women’s team concluded their Turkey trip whereas Igor Stimac’s men are set to play two friendlies in March…
As the world is limping back to normalcy fighting its way against the Coronavirus pandemic, sports remains on the backburner for most nations. However, footballing action in India has kept rumbling on with the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League being held simultaneously in Goa and Kolkata respectively.
However, international football had come to a freezing halt, especially in Asia which had seen no matches held in the entire 2020. But that dismal stat, at least for India, is changing.
Significantly, India’s national teams are getting some much-needed action courtesy of the AIFF’s (All India Football Federation) proactiveness behind the scenes. The India women’s team flew to Turkey to take part in an exposure trip recently where they locked horns against Serbia, Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, the men’s team are also set to play a couple of friendlies in March in Dubai.
In their final match of the exposure trip, the Indian eves went down 3-2 against a much-higher ranked Ukraine in Alanya, Turkey, on Tuesday. Maymol Rocky’s troops had a brilliant first half, courtesy of goals by Pyari Xaxa and Manisha, but a resilient Ukraine side riding on a hattrick by Daria Apanashchenko made a comeback in the second half to steal the show.
India did not have to wait long to break the deadlock after Pyari Xaxa scored in the 14th minute making the most of a melee in the box. And just past the half-hour mark, Manisha doubled India’s lead after she latched on to an exquisite through ball from Sangita Basfore.
It was individual brilliance from Apanashchenko that took the game away from India. Her winner was an audacious chip over goalkeeper Linthoingambi, which had quality written all over it.
After an 8-0 mauling against Russia, the team showed character by putting up an impressive show against a much superior opponent who are currently ranked 24th in the world. The eves were camping in Goa for over a month before they travelled to Turkey and there will be a slew of national camps ahead of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers later this year.
Although India have already qualified for the marquee event slated to be held in January 2021, courtesy of being the host, there is a strong sentiment amongst the squad members that they are going to give their all to qualify on merit rather than privilege. To ensure that they get prepared in the best possible manner, AIFF are looking to provide them with similar platforms so that they can lock horns against higher-ranked teams.
“We were deeply concerned by the fact that our women’s team were out of action for a long time following the pandemic. Just like in the case of the men’s team, we were looking out for opportunities where our women’s team can play a few matches and that is why we jumped at the opportunity to send them to Turkey. We also wanted them to play higher-ranked nations and get exposure to top-quality football. And the team have done well. It has been a great experience for the team who were without some of the regular players due to injury. The result against Ukraine was very good,” told AIFF secretary Kushal Das to Goal.
The federation has also arranged a national camp for the men’s team in UAE (United Arab Emirates) from March 15, so that the team gets in shape before taking on Oman and the hosts in two friendlies. It must be noted that Oman and UAE are ranked 81st and 74th in the world which is significantly higher than India (104). Playing against quality opponents will not only help them get better but will be crucial to improve the rankings if they manage to churn out a positive result from these two games.
India will play their remaining World Cup qualifiers in June in Qatar and this camp will be vital for Igor Stimac to formulate a new blueprint for the Blue Tigers as the coach has hinted that there will be many new faces in the squad.
“We also wanted our men’s team to get back into competitive action before the World Cup qualifiers and thankfully, we’ve been able to arrange a couple of friendlies next month,” stated Das.
India are currently placed fourth in Group E with three points from five matches. Qatar top the table with 13 points while Oman are hot on their heels with 12. India are virtually out of contention for the top two spots but a third-place finish is well within the reach of the Blue Tigers. That will book them a direct berth in the third round for the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers.
India lost narrowly to Oman at home before holding Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw. The inspiring result was followed by two more draws and a loss against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Oman respectively.
Eight group winners and four best runners-up will progress to the continent’s 12-team final qualifying stage for the 2022 World Cup.