Sunday , December 10 2023

India’s Blue Tigresses fall to Vietnam defeat!

India’s Paris Olympics dreams ended at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Sunday, October 29, when they went down fighting to Vietnam 1-3 in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Group C encounter.

Having lost their second consecutive match in a row, India are now out of contention for the Olympics despite having a match in hand. In the first match, India lost to former World Cup champions Japan.

Interestingly, all four goals of the afternoon were scored with the heads of the respective scorers – Huyn Nhu, Tran Thi Hai Linh, and Pham Hai Yen for Vietnam, and Sandhiya Ranganathan for India.

Head coach Thomas Dennerby made four changes to the India starting XI that played against Japan, opting to field Elangbam Panthoi Chanu in goal, while Ritu Rani slotted in at right-back instead of an injured Dalima Chhibber. Soumya Guguloth and Manisha Kalyan were also brought in to add some pace to the wide areas.

Bala Devi, who has been the star striker for India throughout her career, was posted as a deep-lying midfielder by Dennerby, while Soumya Guguloth and Anju Tamang kept switching between the centre-forward and the right-wing positions.

The experiment did not pay off against Vietnam, however, as the opponents launched a barrage of attacks in the opening exchanges. Their captain and striker Huyn Nhu got on the scoresheet in the fourth minute itself, when some confusion between India centre-back Ashalata Devi and right-back Sanju resulted in a loss of possession. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dung capitalised on the confusion and sent in a cross from the right flank, which was headed in by Nhu.

The Vietnam captain was a menace up front for the Indian defence, as she constantly managed to get between the lines, and position herself properly for free headers. Another effort by Nhu, a glancing header this time, thudded into the near post before Bala cleared it. Minutes later, Panthoi had to pull off a diving save off a free kick to keep the 31-year-old forward out.

Vietnam struck again in the 22nd minute when an unmarked Tran Thi Hai Linh headed a Doung Thi Van cross from the right, into the Indian goal.

India mainly relied on counter-attacks, Manisha being the primary outlet with her darting runs down the left. However, their best chance came from Bala, whose glancing shot off a Sanju corner trickled inches wide of the far post. Their best chance came with around 10 minutes left for the half time break, when Manisha’s cross from the left was aimed at Anju at the far post. The latter headed it across the goal from a rather acute angle, but it was just beyond the reach of Soumya, who was eager to pounce on it.

Bala moved back to the number 10 role in the later exchanges of the first half, Soumya remaining up top, as Indumathi dropped deep. That changed, however, in the second half, as Dennerby brought on Sangita Basfore in place of the 33-year-old striker, to act as a shield for the defence after the change of ends. Astam Oraon also replaced Ashalata, who was on a yellow.

While the changes did lend a certain amount of stability to the Indian defence, they did little to provide much joy in attack. Striker Renu was introduced into the game with around 20 minutes to go, to bolster the attack. However, a minute later, lightning struck thrice as Vietnam scored with their head again. Substitute Pham Hai Yen was unmarked in the box this time, and made no mistake as she headed in a cross from the right.

The third goal did change things, as India brought on Sandhiya Ranganathan and shifted to a 4-4-2, Renu and Manisha playing up front. The former pulled one back for India, as she ran onto a deep cross-field ball off a deep free-kick by Ritu Rani, and headed it past an onrushing Vietnam keeper.

The momentum was now truly in India’s favour as the battering ram approach of the two strikers worked better than their previous more nuanced attempts. However, it was too late for the Blue Tigresses to overturn a two goal deficit, as they suffered their second defeat in Tashkent. They play next against hosts Uzbekistan on Wednesday, November 1.

<b Elangbam Panthoi Chanu – Sanju, Ashalata Devi (C) (46′ Astam Oraon), Sweety Devi, Ritu Rani – Shilky Devi, Indumathi Kathiresan (76′ Sandhiya Ranganathan), Anju Tamang (72′ Renu) – Manisha Kalyan, Bala Devi (46′ Sangita Basfore), Soumya Guguloth (59′ Dangmei Grace)

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