India’s U-17 team laid down the marker with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Nepal in the opening game of the 2023 SAFF U-17 Women’s Championship campaign on Monday, March 20 at the BSSS Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The stadium had served up forgettable memories for the India U-20 team, against the same opposition earlier in the year as they suffered a defeat and if there were any fears that this would prove to be a tricky tie, they were banished almost immediately. Within forty seconds of the start India had already launched up an attempt on goal, and after 20 minutes had already put the ball in the net thrice — albeit twice they were ruled out for offside.
PV Priya’s wards were aware of the threat Nepal possessed, and never let their foot off the pedal, constantly pressing high and hassling the Nepal midfield off the ball. In the 10th minute, Shilji Shaji got the breakthrough, running on to goalkeeper Khushi’s long cleared ball past a napping Nepal defence and slotting it into the far corner. It was the simplest of plays executed perfectly.
Pooja and Sibani playing on either side of Shilji — and switching flanks periodically — were a constant thorn in the flesh for the Nepal full backs, and the former had two goals chalked off for offside in the opening half hour of the game. Her pace and ability to drop precise crosses never allowed the rivals to settle.
Just when it seemed that Nepal would escape the half without conceding more, India hit them with a double blow. First Shilji scored in the 40th minute, her second goal a carbon copy of the first, the only change in the provider of the long ball — Khushi replaced by Thoibisana. And then, barely a minute later, Pooja had made it three, Shilji this time the provider for the winger to tap in. Nepal went into the break not knowing what had hit them.
India’s ability to affect the important periods of the game and keep Nepal at an arm’s distance was essentially the difference between the two sides. Every time Nepal looked threatening, India would wrest back control. Barsha Oli scored off a well taken volley in the 54th minute to reduce the deficit, but rarely did India look like losing the plot. Shilji rounded off a brilliant performance with a well taken third, robbing the Nepal midfield from a throw-in and then running through on her own to finish. It was the icing on a brilliant performance.