AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022: Profligate finishing, resolute Iran deny India three points

It is too early to state that this is the game that ends up costing India qualification to the latter stages.

Arka Bhattacharya January 21, 2022 09:06:36 IST
AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022: Profligate finishing, resolute Iran deny India three points

India and Iran played out a goalless draw at the start of the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 in Mumbai. Image: AIFF

A wait of 18 and a half years almost ended in ecstasy for Team India but it was not to be for the Blue Tigresses. They huffed and puffed, but they could not breach the Iranian goal.

For Iran, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, it was a creditable point – one earned through grit and fight. If this was a boxing match, India would have won this on points. A knockout blow though – was threatened many a time – failed to materialise.

It is too early to state that this is the game that ends up costing India qualification to the latter stages. If they do miss out – Iran will be the opponent that they dropped two points against. Unusual for Indian football on a big stage but true on this occasion – this draw felt like a defeat.

Iran’s game-plan

Team Melli Baanovaan came with a clear strategy in mind – to isolate the Indian full-backs and force mistakes out of them. They were smart enough to avoid the centre, thus bypassing India’s best player on the night – Indumathi Kathiresan.

Negin Zandi made a nuisance of herself, and her flicked header clipped the crossbar early on, a move which rattled the frame of the goal as well as the defence’s morale. It also showcased the fragility of the team in the air. Another reason for Iran to go wide, try and pump in crosses.

With Sanju Yadav a makeshift left-back, an opportunity arose for the opposition to try and pin her deep within her own half. It worked to a large extent – the Alakhpura woman had trouble containing the Iranian right flank.

Zandi continued pulling the full-backs out of position, often forcing Manisa Panna and Ashalata Devi to cover for them. In an intense opening period, Iran edged it, as the Indian midfield were left chasing shadows.

India’s toothless attack

The midfield selection of Ratanbala Devi and Anju Tamang caused fewer problems to the opposition than it did for India. The duo were unable to progress with the ball and often failed to play it to the winger ahead of them.

Manisha Kalyan did try her best to break the shackles but was marshalled well by the Iranian defence. The predictability of India’s attempts to give her the ball was sniffed out a mile away by their rivals, and she was marked out of the game. Despite being double-teamed, Manisha looked the liveliest of the attackers. Sandhiya Ranganathan, on the other flank, endured a horrid time and created precious little for the team before she was hooked off.

Pyari Xaxa, always a willing runner, did not have the guile or the technique, to act as the sole forward. There was no lack of effort on her part – but it is highly unlikely she will ever touch the heights that a centre forward at a continental stage is expected to.

Overall, the progression of the ball from midfield to the wingers left much to be desired. 4-3-3 might be the norm in world football today, but it is certainly a formation that looks ill-suited to the Indian team. The biggest problems came in midfield where Indu was the sole player looking to progress and attack the second ball. Both Ratanbala and Anju were off colour and it hampered the balance of Thomas Dennerby’s team.

Baffling selections

Chasing a goal in a game they had to win, India’s options off the bench were limited. Dangmei Grace and Yumnam Kamala Devi were the two weapons that Dennerby had on the bench.

Grace was brought in and made an instant impact. She was wasteful and had a couple of golden chances to win the match, but to her credit, she did well to get in those positions and make space for herself. It begs the question whether she should have started the game in the first place.

Dennerby did say that he wanted pace from his substitutes and hence Kamala’s complete omission. Her experience, her technique, her eye for goal are traits that India sorely missed on this day. Sumati Kumari and Renu Rani were brought on, but they added very little to the attack besides speed.

Priyangka Devi, coming off a very impressive Under-19 SAFF campaign, is an option that the coach may have explored. Sumati and Renu for their part did try to latch on to the end of through balls, but their execution in the final third left a lot to be desired.

Good conditioning

If there were positives to take away from this game, it must be the work of Strength and Conditioning coach Jane Tornqvist. An ex-Swedish international with more than 100 caps to her name, Tornqvist’s work with the women looks to be paying off as India were fitter and had higher endurance than their opponents, who kept cramping up.

Playing three games in seven days is not going to be an easy task for India, who have not had a domestic league in two years. Given that the 11 may not undergo significant change, Tornqvist will try to keep the team fit and firing for the remaining two games in the group stage.

Chinese Taipei will not be easy opponents, despite the 4-0 humbling that China handed to them. They seem to be a fitter team than Iran and have both pedigree and experience at this level.

India’s quarter-final and World Cup dream boils down to this match, as China seem a step too far at this juncture. The 90 minutes on Sunday will be crucial. Iran draw hasn’t done the team any favours; now it's up to them to do themselves one by overcoming Chinese Taipei.

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