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It has been a busy year for the women in blue of the Indian national football team. The contingent, led by skipper Ashalata Devi on Tuesday, bowed out of the second round of AFC Olympic qualifiers and narrowly missed out on a historical entry into the next round of qualifiers after they were held 3-3 by Malaysia. Ahead of the match, India and host Myanmar were level on points (6) in the group and India needed a win to go through to the next round because of Myanmar's better goal difference. Earlier in the qualifiers, India had defeated Indonesia and Nepal. However, a hat-trick from Myanmar's Win Theingi Tun meant India could only muster a draw and went out on goal difference.
India kick started the year with four back-to-back friendlies, two each against Hong Kong and Indonesia in the last week of January. While India beat Hong Kong by an aggregate of 6-2, they fared against Indonesia by a margin of 5-0 after both the games. Following their successes in the friendlies, the Indian eves moved on to play the Hero Gold Cup in February, where they hosted continental rivals IR Iran, Myanmar and Nepal at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Under head coach Maymol Rocky, the team was floating high in confidence following successive victories and were ready to be a part of the journey in front of the home crowd. India started their campaign on a winning note beating Iran by a solitary goal on February 9. Anju Tamang's match-winner in the 48th minute ensured India made it five wins in a row. However, the team fell short and couldn't earn a berth in the final, after two disappointing consecutive defeats in the round robin stage against Nepal and Myanmar, respectively. It was Sabitra Bhandari's early brace that did the trick for Nepal, which India couldn't match even after Ratanbala Devi's brilliant strike from a free-kick. India conceded two goals against Myanmar as well, but this time the Eves couldn't score, which marked the end of their campaign. Next up in line was the Turkish Women's Cup which began on February 27. Despite putting up a valiant show, the Indian women’s team came short in its first match against Uzbekistan, as it lost by a narrow 0-1 margin. In the post-match conference, Rocky stated that she believed that Uzbekistan's early goal proved to be the undoing of her team. India came back strong in their second match of the tournament and romped to a massive 10-0 victory over Turkmenistan aided by Sanju's hat-trick. However, India met with a similar fate to the Gold Cup, where they conceded defeats in the next two matches against Romania (0-3) and Kazakhstan (0-0 [3-4 P]), respectively. India finished the tournament in a disappointing sixth position. After working on their shortcomings through these exposure tours, with a renewed vigour, India headed to play the SAFF Women’s Championship in Nepal. India continued their dominance at the Championships, lifting their fifth straight title by defeating the hosts 3-1 in the final. The victory also extended India’s unbeaten run in the tournament’s history to 23 games. Before the final, the eves went on to post some big-margin triumphs against Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the stride. The Indian team was a step away from creating history. (Source: AIFF Media)
The Indian women's team, in fact, has played 18 matches so far in 2019, out of which they won 11 and lost just five matches in the stride. The only draw came on Tuesday against Myanmar.
Despite such recent progress, the state of Indian football remains in shambles.On the one hand, uncertainty looms large over country's top division league, I-League with the AIFF reportedly set to elevate Indian Super League (ISL) as the top tier league from next season. On the other hand, the women's football team fails to draw the attention of the average Indian sports lover despite its recent streak of performances. One of the primary reasons for the failure to attract attention can be cited as a lack of television broadcast in India, which can serve as a bedrock to foster more support. Also Read: Disorganised presently, India gears up to host U17 Women's World Cup None of the matches that the women's team played this year was shown LIVE on Indian television. Despite knowing that India had the odds stacked in their favour in the SAFF Women's Championships, the fans had to settle for score updates on websites to reciprocate to their own team’s victory.
Indian's men's football team captain Sunil Chhetri’s one-time plea last year was a grim reminder of how the support for football has always been dwindling in the country, particularly if you see women's football. Most of India isn't even aware of the "Durga of Indian Football", the legend from Manipur, Oinam Bembem Devi. Although the number of women attending football matches as a percentage of the whole has gone up, there is clearly a lack of promotions and buzz around women’s tournaments and footballers as such. After a series of excellent performances Indians have been able to attune with a Mithali Raj in cricket, a Sania Mirza in tennis, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in badminton. In spite of having players like a Shanti Mullick, a Bembem Devi and now a Bala Devi, these footballers still do not enjoy even half the popularity that their counterparts in other sports have. Media is partly responsible for such disparity owing to their lack of promotion. We can always take the example of the Indian Women’s League (IWL) when it comes to poor promotion. The IWL saw only a few local takers and empty grounds streamed on a less-than-stable medium did not help its cause at all. Many people still don't know that Indian Women’s Football team has just won its 5th straight SAFF title. The Indian team can certainly be proud of the effort they have put in at the Olympic qualifiers Round 2. (Source: AIFF Media) It was Chhetri who had said earlier in March that he had no doubt the women’s team was better than the men’s team. The men’s team ranks 103 out of 211 countries, while the women’s side is currently at 62 out of 152 countries.
For time and again, women sports have faced negligence from broadcasters. It was indeed an excellent opportunity for the Indian women’s football team, which is slowly trying to gain popularity among the mass. However, some of the major sports channels in India were busy airing the highlights of the Indian Premier League during the same period.
We consider ourselves lucky to witness live the historic feats pulled up by our two Indian badminton queens and also the Indian Women's Cricket Team. However, the apathy towards women’s football has rarely given us such an opportunity to discuss the fine form of our women footballers. Receiving felicitations after emerging victorious does not serve half the purpose of uplifting a game or athletes, it is by evoking the sense of togetherness through the journey of winning we can actually develop the sport.
Despite Indian women’s team playing more matches compared to what the men’s team plays, telecast of these matches couldn't be arranged, how can a team expect to gain followers?