The Indian women’s football team almost pulled off a huge upset against Myanmar at the Olympic Qualifiers | Photo – AIFF |
Not every day is football celebrated in India as much it was on April 09, 2019 as the Indian women’s team stood on the cusp of scripting history against a much-superior Myanmar side at the Mandalar Thiri Stadium in Mandalay, Myanmar. Months of preparations had gone in for that one particular game where a win would see the Blue Tigress qualify for the 3rd Round of the Olympic Qualifiers. Despite fighting tooth and nail with the much-superior hosts, the Indian team went down on the goal difference as they bowed out of the competition.
However, that one game was enough to prove how far women’s football has come under coach Maymol Rocky, who has worked tirelessly to put Indian women’s team on the world football map. Under her tutelage, the Indian team came out on top of Nepal at their own backyard to lift their fifth straight SAFF Women’s Championship title before heading to Myanmar for a bigger and sterner test.
On a day where only a win would see them progress to the next round, the Indian team was held to a 3-3 draw by Myanmar as the Blue Tigress’ campaign at the Olympic Qualifiers came to an end with the hosts progressing on a superior goal difference. The 11 women on the day put their hearts out on the pitch but their stellar effort eventually wasn’t enough.
The Indian team was twice outplayed by Maynmar before the do-or-die game. While many would have expected another cakewalk for the 44th ranked side against a 63rd ranked India, the Blue Tigress put on a show and almost pulled off an upset. Eleven girls in blue were right up there, said coach Rocky in an exclusive interaction with Timesnownews.com, talking about the heartbreaking loss against Maynmar.
“If everybody understands the meaning of word excellent that is the word I would use to describe that match. If you see the result, we drew the match but if you see our previous matches against them we were up there, eleven girls were right up there in that game,” she said reflecting on her team’s performance in the knockout encounter.
“Scoring against Myanmar was the key for me. Because if you see previous matches we have never scored against big teams. Like there is always a notion that we score against lower-ranked teams but this team which is ranked 44, to score against them and play good football technically also, the girls did a lot of good things on the pitch in that game. But it is all about preparation, we started four months prior for that key game and the girls were excellent,” she further added.
When Rocky was appointed at the helm of affairs, her first big challenge was to set up a ‘team’ and bring the 20 odd girls selected from different parts of the country together and play with a single motive, to pump confidence into them. Another uphill task for her was to churn out a young side and build for the future. While the latter aim was achieved as the current Indian women’s team’s average stands at 21.4 with a host of young stars in the ranks, the former is under progress as the girls are gelling well with every game and tour.
“Off the field, they have started gaining confidence when they are on tour and moving around apart from football, they have personally grown. They have also grown as footballers. It was the lack of being together with the team for a longer time and playing so many international games and the exposure that comes with it has definitely helped the players individually and as a team,” said Rocky who has witnessed the transformation under her close guidance.
Over the years, women’s football in Indian has seen a significant surge in terms of both performance and viewership. For a cricket-mad nation like ours, more often than not it takes a certain Sunil Chhetri to get the fans to walk in into a football stadium and support the national team but the buzz was naturally there when the Indian Tigress was getting ready to face Maynmar as millions back home knew what was at stake.
Social media was flooding with messages of support and a million hopes back home were shattered after the team’s exit from the competition but it laid the foundation for what the future holds for women’s football. It was just a teaser. Attendance records were broken when India hosted the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and something similar can be witnessed when the Indian team plays the Women’s U-17 World Cup next year as hosts.
Currently, the National Junior Girls Championships are underway in Maharashtra and the tournament has been touted as the scouting stage for the World Cup. Rocky believes the Junior Nationals is a perfect platform for budding footballers to showcase their skills and book a spot in the national side. She is already thinking ahead of time to prepare some of the U-17 girls who will be selected from the nationals to help them transit into the senior team post the World Cup.
“This is the base for me and here we will be scouting a lot of players for the World Cup. And we have the current senior team players who are all under 21 and 2 or 3 girls (From U-17 side) can push in into the camp and start preparing so we can have a good young team,” she said.
Rocky still feels there can be a lot of changes made at the ground level to ensure proper development for women’s football in the country and reckons that the facilities when compared to men’s football still need a recheck. However, she is thankful of the AIFF (All India Football Federation) for giving proper attention to women’s football and believes more games, tournaments at the school and state level will help in unearthing more talent.
“Football is for everyone to play but it becomes difficult when facilities are compared and other things are compared (to men’s football) but let me tell you things have become better from what they were 3-4 years ago. Now a lot of things are better, the federation has really looked upon women’s football. A lot of tournaments, matches should happen. I think any age-group any girl should be able to play in their clubs, school and state teams I think it’s about playing more games,” she said.