This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Women’s football in India went through a bit of a low-profile phase after the national team retained the second SAFF Football Championship crown in Colombo last September.
Four months after the SAFF glory, the Indian eves are once again making the right noises, pulling off a historic solitary goal win over the much fancied Netherlands side (Dutch hold a FIFA world ranking of 14) at the Father Agnel Sports Complex in Navi Mumbai on Sunday. This win levelled the two-match exhibition series after India went down fighting 0-2 in the first tie in Kolhapur.
The much-cherished win over the Netherlands, which came on the back of Ashalata Devi’s early goal, bodes well for women’s football, where the country never misses out on an opportunity to impress.
Besides the memorable win on Sunday, what was heartening to see was that the Indian girls never got overawed by the prospect of facing a top soccer side like Netherlands and stayed competitive for most part of those two matches.
Undoubtedly, Indian women’s team chief coach Anadi Barua is on cloud nine. “I don’t think anyone would have given us a chance to beat the Netherlands. This is win is significant for women’s football in India. Our girls were just fantastic. I’m so proud of my girls,” a seemingly excited Anadi told Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
The dogged performance of the Indian women’s football team in both the matches left Anadi talking extremely highly about his team. “We fought hard in both the games. We maintained decent possession and of course, we were even more sharp than we were in Kolhapur. Obviously, it was never going to be a walk in the park for us as Netherlands are a formidable side. It was a huge learning curve for the girls. There were a lot of positives we can take from these two matches,” Anadi says candidly.
Anadi took charge of the national women’s team only a few weeks back. In fact, the seven-day camp held in Kolhapur was all he had to get the best out of the team for the two exhibition ties. “I’m happy to guide the girls. They are a disciplined lot; they have got the right attitude to excel and more importantly, they’re very focused on what they want to do on the maidan. I’m saying this from the (experience of) seven-odd days I have spent with the team,” he reveals.
The former India midfielder, who donned the national colours in the 1986 Nehru Cup in Thiruvananthapuram, feels that the Indian team needs to work on their goal-scoring abilities. “Our girls lack the goal-scoring skills. In football, you can’t win matches if you don’t score goals. If our girls work on this area, we can give a lot of sides a run for their money,” Anadi puts things in perspective.
There is a general feeling that the Indian women’s team does not play enough international matches or tournaments. Does he think that such a scenario would prove detrimental to the growth of women’s football? “I agree. Our girls need more international exposure. They have to play more international tournaments against quality sides – we should be looking at playing at least 20 internationals a year. I remember in the late seventies, the Thailand, Sweden and England eves came to India and played around 15 matches (all combined). AIFF has done a great thing by arranging these two matches against the Netherlands. I’m sure there will be more to come,” the man, who was awarded the best player in the 1980 Subroto Cup, exudes optimism.
Anadi, who played for various Delhi clubs like Simla Youngs, Indian Nationals, Moonlight and SBI in a career spanning nearly 16 years (1978-1994), believes regular participation in international tournaments can go a long way in improving India’s world ranking. “We can surely climb up the ranking ladder if we regularly feature in international matches. Indian eves have the potential to be in the top-30 if not more,” he was paints a positive picture.
The Indian women team’s chief coach, who obtained a FIFA diploma from Brazil in 1995, stresses the need for the women’s team to play with various men’s teams at the domestic level in order to sharpen their match competitiveness. “Girls should play with the boys under-17 team or even the senior men’s team. It will do a lot of good to their self-confidence and bring about improvement in their game. They can also play some I-League teams like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal among others,” he explains.
The former Indian footballer, who represented Delhi for seven years in Santosh Trophy was mighty impressed with the turnout in both the games. “Around 20,000 spectators were watching the match in Kolhapur and another 5,000 were outside the stadium. Another 4,000 watched the second match in Navi Mumbai. It is great to see so much interest for women’s football.”
Anadi was asked to assume charge of the national women’s team for the two exhibition international ties against the Netherlands. Is he is looking at a long-term stint in the hot seat? “I was asked to take over as coach of the team for these two matches and I’m trying my best for the team. It’s an honour to be the coach of the national team. I’m not thinking too much about the future,” he added.