The Indian women's football team pulled off a feat of climbing three places in the latest FIFA rankings to take 56th place in the world and 12th place in Asia. As the team's fervent supporters and players cherish this rise, we try to reflect upon the circumstances that led to the rise in rankings.
Though the Indian women's team's World Cup ambitions were dashed earlier this year when they were forced to withdraw from the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup following a COVID outbreak in the camp, the team made the right amends by winning consecutive games against Egypt and Jordan in a FIFA-recognised tri-nation friendly.
IWL and U17 National Football Championships
The success of the Indian national team has resulted in numerous opportunities for women in the game throughout the country. It includes the like of resumption of the Indian Women's League, and the start of the U17 National Football Championship, among others. With the U17 team preparing to compete in the FIFA U17 World Cup in November, the governing body has devised new strategies to promote youth development in women's football in India. A greater frequency of organised camps, as well as FIFA-recognized friendlies, have aided in bolstering and nurturing talents.
Indian Arrows project
Following the success of the men's team, which produced players such as Akash Mishra and Vikram Pratap Singh, AIFF launched the Indian Arrows project for the women's team. However, the women's setup began producing incredible results from the first year itself, as the team finished in the middle of the table in the recently concluded Indian Women's League. Aparna Narzary and Priyangka Naorem stole the show with their skills and agility, earning important spots in the national set-up. Players as young as 14, competed in the league alongside veterans such as Ashalata Devi, even bringing in trouble for them. Starting young, these players will provide a valuable addition to the national team as they become accustomed to the level and competition of international football through organized friendlies. The tireless efforts of coaches like Alex Amrose, Thomas Dennerby, and Suren Chhetri aided the cause.
Bringing in quality
The success of the IWL and teams such as Gokulam Kerala FC and Sethu FC has paved the way for more teams to spotlight their female counterparts. Sudeva Delhi recently attempted to form a women's team with former Indian international Disha Malhotra Julka as coach. Although all Indian Super League clubs were previously advised to form their own female teams, only a few have taken the necessary steps. As more teams join the coveted league, an increase in the number of match days would allow for more consistent game time for the players. The league also saw the arrival of foreigners such as Elshaddai Acheampong and Adriana Tirado, who both played for Gokulam Kerala FC. The players brought with them a wealth of knowledge, experience, and tactics, which they shared with local kids and teammates.
The quality of football demonstrated by Indian athletes such as Manisha Kalyan, who scored a crucial goal for India against Brazil, spread overseas, as eminent teams such as Melbourne City FC, Rangers FC, and others sent officials to India in a specially arranged scouting camp in Kolkata earlier in June. Manisha Kalyan, a forward for India and Gokulam Kerala FC, is said to have impressed visiting scouts and has sparked interest from several clubs abroad. However, she appears to be very close to signing a contract with a Cyprus-based club. In doing so, Kalyan will be following in the footsteps of Bala Devi, who spent a significant amount of time with Rangers FC. Her club and national teammates, Aditi Chauhan and Dalima Chibber have also plied their trade in clubs abroad, like West Ham City FC. The camp not only provided them with career opportunities but allowed them to practice and be guided by highly trained foreign officials.
While the governing body is taking numerous steps to advance women's football in India, it is unfortunate to note how unaware most of our people are of their significant success. The reason for this could be a lack of coverage and attention, but it could also be due to the noticeably less game-time available for players combining their national and club games. Steps taken to bring about more tournaments and games for the players, increasing their regular can ensure much more success and glory than the team(s) and players are already bringing to the nation which will readily inspire more people to come out of their boundaries, embracing this beautiful game while they make a name for themselves.