Football - Indian women
Living a dream: The onus is on a young Indian women's football team to make the opportunity of playing in the Asian Cup at home count. Image Credit: Credit: AIFF

Kolkata: A goalless draw against Iran may not have been quite the ideal start for the Indian women’s football team in their AFC women’s Asian Cup campaign in Mumbai - but they want to look ahead now. ‘The Blue Tigresses,’ as they are called, have two more matches left in their Group A against Chinese Taipei and China PR and they must do better if they want to make the quarters - which can open the doors at qualifying for the Fifa Women’s World Cup Australia 2023.

Thomas Dennerby, their head coach, wants the young team to learn the lessons from Thursday’s game. “This game is over. The result is what it is. We can never look back. Now we have to work on our finishing and go at it again in the second match against Chinese Taipei and get the three points.”

“I think we have a solid defence, and defended well whenever they tried to counter-attack. A few tweaks to our attack, and we will be ready for our next opponents”, the 62-year-old said.

China PR, who have three points after defeating Chinese Taipei 4-0 at the Mumbai Football Arena lead the group while India share the second spot with Iran, with both sides having a point apiece.

The continental event in India has opened the doors for the women’s team to emulate what Rani Rampaul & Co did for hockey at the Tokyo Olympics last year. If popularising the women’s game in the country is up there on the agenda, Aditi Chauhan, one of the few well-known faces of the team summed it perfectly when she said they wanted to be the face of every girld child in India who had been deprived from taking up any sport.

“We stand at a very crucial juncture for women’s football, or Indian football. Most of the girls in our team have seen the struggles that every other girl child has to face if they want to take up sports as kids. I can assure you, we represent every one of them on this stage – all of them who may have been deprived,” said Chauhan, who was the first Indian women’s player to have a stint in a professional club with West Ham Ladies. “We have girls from every corner of the country, and we fight for every girl from every nook and corner of India. We fight as one.”

Impacting social lives: Chauhan

“Sports has an uncanny habit of impacting social lives, and we want to strive for such change. We do not just want to strive for victories. We are fighting for much more. We are fighting for women’s football, and we hope to make some impact in our country, no matter how small it is,” she said ahead of their first match.

Echoing Aditi’s sentiments, captain Ashalata Devi said: “I’ve been playing for well over a decade, and I never really thought over all this time that we would be this close to something which is a lifelong dream for any footballer anywhere in the world. But as they say, if you don’t work for it, your dreams remain mere dreams. We have to give our heart and soul on the pitch, and we are mentally prepared to do so.

“Would I have thought about an Asian Cup appearance, when I would sneak out of my house to play football with the boys, as a kid? Not in a million years. But that just shows you how much women can do if they put their minds to it,” added Ashalata.