Mumbai: In a creditable achievement, Indian women's football team pulled off a shock 1-0 win over the Netherlands in their second international match here on Sunday. Though the visiting side was an assorted outfit, a mix of first team and Under-19 players, the win by the Indians was creditable considering that the Dutch are ranked 14th in FIFA women's rankings while India are placed 52nd.
Ashalata Devi scored the only goal of the match in the 15th minute which eventually was the difference between the two sides. Sans their key midfielder Supriya Routray and playing in artificial turf which they don't do too often, the Indians beat all the odds to level the two-match series 1-1.
The home side had given the Dutch a mighty scare before going down 0-2 in the first match at Kolhapur on January 17. Indian coach Anadi Barua described the win as historic for Indian women's football.
"This is historic. Who would have given us a chance before the two matches against the Dutch? But we did it. My girls did it. This is fantastic. The result will be a big boost for women's football in India. This is path-breaking," an elated Barua said after the match which was played at the Father Agnel Sports Complex at Navi Mumbai.
He, however, said that he was not sure if India would gain points in the FIFA rankings from Sunday's win as the opposition was not the first team of the Netherlands.
"I think, it's a mix of their (Dutch) Under-19 and first team players. It is an exhibition match and so am not sure whether we will get points for FIFA rankings calculation. But the creditable thing is we level the international exhibition series 1-1. It's also credit to the AIFF for arranging such kind of matches. The exposure the players got would boost their confidence and go a long way in improving the standard of women's football in the country," he said.
As the match was nearing its end, the 4,000-odd crowd started dancing to the tunes of Chak De India, yelling their lungs out 'India, India'. The players in return waved their hands to acknowledge the cheer from the crowd as soon as the referee blew the final whistle. The Indians were pressing from the word go. By not allowing their fancied opponents time on the ball, the women in blue made quite a few attacks of which Parmeshwari Devi's sixth minute header almost got them the lead.
But their effort paid off soon. Ashalata Devi's diagonal header off D Grace's corner kick nested into the back of the net. The 4,000 odd vociferous crowd inside the Father Agnel Sports Complex erupted in joy. Trailing by a goal, frustration was starting to creep in at the visitors' ranks. Chelly Drost and Lucie Akkerman got themselves booked in the process. The Indians sat deep and guarded their citadel.
In the dying minutes of the first half, Annebel ten Broeke - one of the goalscorers in the first match -- came close to equalising but Indian captain Romi Devi was there to make an excellent interception. Changing sides, the Dutch pressed for an eqauliser using their height advantage to wriggle past the Indian back four.
But it was the Indian women's resolute defending that helped the scoreline remain the same. The back-four comprising of Tuli Goon, Romi Devi, Ashalata Devi and Suprava Samal were on their toes throughout the second half marking the Dutch with great efficiency. There were tactical changes in the 65th minute when attacking midfielder Swati Rawat was replaced by a holding medio Manisha Panna, and Subhaprava Rout made way for stopper Lochna Munda three minutes later.
Dutch coach Maria van Kortenhof conceded after the match that the Indians punched above their FIFA rankings.
"We played better actually today compared to the other day. In the second half we controlled the game for most parts. But credit goes to the Indian girls they did not allow us to score. They were defending sharply and were really impressive. I think they should play more of such matches. They can do very well. They are above their rankings," Kortenhof said.