When it comes to football, India does not strike up as the first name on the list. When it comes to women’s football, India has barely ever been a part of the conversation. But that was until now.
Indian football has had a spectacular 2019 and the women have been an integral part of it.
The growth has been seemingly unstoppable in the last few seasons and it has only got better in 2020. A month-and-a-half into the new year, we have seen the women attain some seemingly unattainable heights. To put it simply, the Indian women footballers have already been overshadowing the men in numerous ways for a while and it is time they are given due credit for what they have achieved so far.
To start off, the women’s national team spectacularly lifted the 2019 SAFF Cup, brushing off every opponent with extreme ease and grace. The dominance of the team in the tournament was staggering. They scored 18 goals in four games and conceded just once. In the process, Indian extended its unbeaten run in the tournament’s history to 23 games and pocketed the trophy for a record fifth time.
Currently, the women’s team is ranked 57th in FIFA Elo Ratings which is much better than the men’s team ranking. The men’s team is placed at a measly 104 as per the last update. The women’s team is the 13th-best team in Asia and won two and drew one game in the women’s Olympics qualifying from Asia since the SAFF Cup.
In terms of individual glory, the likes of Tanvie Hans and Ngangom Bala Devi have been trailblazing the way forward.
Hans has featured for the likes of Tottenham Hotspurs and Fulham only to return to the country and participate in national league competitions.
Bala Devi recently became the first Indian footballer ever to bag a contract with Scottish giants Rangers FC. Bala Devi’s goal-scoring rate has been impressive. The 29-year-old has netted 52 goals in 58 matches for India and scored 38 goals in her first two seasons of Indian Women’s League (IWL).
There is another Devi who has been making noise for all the right reasons. Kamala Devi drew flak for removing her shirt after scoring the winning goal that sent India through to the next round of Olympic qualifiers. But she proved her class by scoring 20 goals in the National Championships for Railways. Kamala was equally proficient for Gokulam Kerala in the recently-concluded season of IWL.
In terms of the domestic structure, things have improved since the last decade but there is still a long, long way to go. The 2019 National Championships saw 30 teams participate; with the incredible Bala Devi leading the charts with 21 goals and helping her state Manipur defend their title. Kamala Devi was ranked second with 20 goals, while the sensational Panthoi Chanu was awarded the Golden Gloves for her exceptional goalkeeping abilities.
The 2020 IWL season, which had Gokulam Kerala and KRYPHSA play out a thrilling final that saw the team from Kerala win the trophy for the first time also had its fair share of eventful matches, the final itself being one of them.
Played out in Bangalore with 12 teams competing for the title, KRYPHSA FC’s Ratanbala Devi was awarded the Best Player of the tournament while Nepal’s Sabitra Bhandari walked away with the Golden Boot for her 19 goals in the 3-week long tournament.
In the junior setup, the Indian U-17 women’s team which flew to Turkey on an exposure tour, drew 3-3 against Romania with Mariyammal Balamurugan and Sumati Kumari getting their names on the scoresheet and the second friendly saw the Indians seal a 1-0 victory
India is set to host the U-17 Women’s FIFA World Cup later this year. There is no doubt that the U-17 squad will look to create history and do better than what their male counterparts could do in the men’s U-17 FIFA World Cup.
Apart from these changes in the national and international setups, India is also set to see its first-ever amateur women’s football league which will kick off in Delhi. Christened as the KICA Football League, it will have six teams of seven players each. The league is an attempt to encourage more women to take up the sport professionally.
With numerous slow and fast changes happening in Indian women’s football, it is about time that All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Football Sports Development (FSDL) should do more to take Indian football to next level. With the right moves, there is little doubt the incredible talent that India’s women footballers posses it is bound to shine through on the international stage, sooner rather than later.