The conclusion of Round 7 – with the goalless draw between Odisha FC and Kickstart – means the halfway point in the 2023-24 Indian Women’s League (IWL) season has been breached. With only six more rounds remaining, the Juggernauts and Kickstart are neck and neck at the top of the table. Gokulam Kerala is slightly behind, followed by HOPS and Sethu FC. The rear is brought up by East Bengal and Sports Odisha, on three and one point respectively.
Here is a roundup of the latest match week, which had everything from a dramatic comeback to a nail-biting draw to a one-sided thrashing.
HOPS overcome Sethu FC with a thrilling last-minute winner
IWL Round 7 kicked off on Tuesday, 23rd January, when HOPS welcomed Sethu FC to the Dr. Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi.
Coming into this fixture, Sethu FC were in 4th place – one place and three points above their hosts. Meanwhile, HOPS had drawn to bottom-placed Sports Odisha, at the cost of two valuable points, in the previous round. They were looking to make up for it at home.
Once the game started, both teams struggled to establish any significant possession in the attacking half. However, Sethu FC, stringing several forward passes together, were able to create promising chances off the counter.
One such attack, in the 29th minute, proved to be fruitful, when Kaviya Pakkiriswamy, finding herself through on goal, slotted past HOPS’s custodian. Pakkiriswamy celebrated her third goal of the season, but substantial credit must be given to Kajol D’souza for her defense splitting assist.
The hosts, who were unable to convert any of their first half chances, were blessed with an opportunity to equalize twelve minutes into the second. Fredrica Torkudzor had been brought down by Phanjoubam Devi just outside the box, but the referee pointed to the spot.
Nevertheless, the just outcome prevailed as Anjila Subba thwarted Swapna’s 12-yard effort. Despite the setback, HOPS proceeded to play their best half of football all season. They found the equalizer through Aarti, who successfully finished Torkudzor’s cutback, in the 75th minute. Then, quite dramatically, Torkudzor ran onto Gladys Amfobea’s through ball and scored HOPS’s winner, in the 92nd minute.
The win puts HOPS level on points with Sethu FC, but a superior goal-difference keeps the visitors in front. Neither team moved rank this week.
Gokulam smash four past East Bengal, inch closer to top two
In this IWL Round’s second fixture, the East Bengal Ground played host to another convincing East Bengal defeat. This time it was 4 – 0 and at the hands of Gokulam Kerala. The visitors, coming off a bye week, were well rested and full of energy. They proved to be too much to handle for an East Bengal team that was wounded by a four-match losing streak.
The match was settled within the first fifteen minutes, during which Gokulam netted three goals. Sandhiya Ranganathan got the first, in the 7th minute, when she made the hosts pay for some not-so-proactive defending outside the EBFC box. Gokulam’s Ugandan international Fazila Ikwaput added two more, in the 10th and 14th minute respectively.
Three minutes into the second half, Ikwaput, with a cool finish, completed her second career IWL hat-trick and gave her side a commanding 4 – 0 lead. Despite some more big opportunities falling Gokulam’s way, the scoreline held out for the remainder of the game.
With the win, the Malabarians temporarily reduced the gap to the top to four points (their leaders Odisha FC and Kickstart played the next day). Meanwhile, East Bengal only managed one shot on target all game, measly in comparison to their opponents’ nine. Last season’s quarter-finalists remain in sixth place.
Top of the table clash ends in a goalless draw
The final match of the IWL Round was the much-anticipated battle between the league’s top two sides, held at the Bangalore Football Stadium. Odisha FC and Kickstart, both undefeated this season and separated by two points, were hoping to get on the right side of a title race ‘six-pointer’.
Kickstart’s head coach vowed to play attacking football in the pre-match press conference and his team initially obliged. Karishma Shirvoikar rattled the upright in the 9th minute, after a blistering run down the right wing. However, the hosts’ share of possession and ability going forward diminished as the half progressed.
Odisha FC, having gained control, tested Kickstart’s custodian Maibam Devi multiple times in the first period. But the goalkeeper held her ground, making an impressive save to deny Win Tun’s 22-yard strike, and another crucial intervention to keep out Manissa Panna’s free header.
With just five minutes to go before the break, the game burst into life. Both teams hungry for a half-time lead countered aggressively which led to some end-to-end football. Shirvoikar’s breakaway effort was saved smartly by Shreya Hooda, while Pyari Xaxa had a glaring miss at the other end.
The hosts had their backs to the wall to start the second half but once again, their goalkeeper bailed them out. Maibam Devi threw up a strong hand to turn away Tun’s drive from close range. In the 61st minute the Juggernauts were dealt a cruel blow as head coach Crispin Chettri was sent off for kicking the ball, which had rolled towards him, away in frustration. Without Chettri’s influence from the sideline, Odisha FC allowed Kickstart to find a footing.
Chances continued to fall both ways, but good goalkeeping and lack of cutting-edge kept either team from breaking the deadlock. There was late drama, as Shirvoikar, bearing down on goal, was taken down by the last defender outside the penalty area in the 93rd minute. To the surprise of Kickstart players and fans, a yellow card was shown to the offender rather than a red. The ensuing free kick was hit straight at Hooda, who gathered gratefully.
The final few minutes were frantic, but the game ended in a goalless draw. The Juggernauts will be frustrated to have not scored, but the result keeps them in prime position. Kickstart will be pleased with their defensive performance, and the shared points, athough they had the chances to take maximum points. A two-point gap prevails between the two teams, but third placed Gokulam, with their previous day’s triumph, edge one point closer to their quarries.
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