The Hero IWL (Indian Women’s League) has created a buzz around the Nation and is gradually growing in stature with every passing year. This year has been no different in this particular aspect, as the IWL keeps brining us promising football and hopes for a bright future of the Indian National Women’s Team.
16 Teams are being featured in this season’s IWL with familiar names like Gokulam Kerala FC and a number of new entrants like Odisha FC and East Bengal FC, and a few more teams. Even though the league still has issues to deal with but nonetheless every little step towards the right direction matters and the growth of this league is sure one such step.
We have all heard a lot over time about this tournament, but let’s have a look at how the tournament has been going on and how it shaped up at the end of the league stage. The league stage of Hero IWL 2023, concluded a day back and following the rules of the competition, the Top 4 teams from the 2 groups present, made their way to the Quarter Finals which are about to take place on the 16th of May.
Let’s have a quick look at how the league stage progressed and what we can expect from the Top 8 teams, in the knockout stages.
Starting with Group A, the Top 4 teams who made it through to the Quarter Finals are: Gokulam Kerala FC, Sports Odisha, East Bengal FC and HOPS FC.
The battle was neck to neck for the Top 4 spots, but the defending Champions were clearly the favourites in group A and they did not disappoint. The reigning Champions of the Hero IWL, Gokulam Kerala have already won the title twice and are eying for their third by defending the title. Gokulam started their campaign with a sparkling 8-2 victory over debutants East Bengal FC.
Their performance was not just highlighted by good passing football and a number of household Indian International names in the squad but also their goal scoring sensation in the form of Nepalese International, Sabitra Bhandari, who scored 5 goals of the 8 in their opening fixture. Gokulam look fierce and continued their dominance through out the league stage with scorelines of 8-1 against Sports Odisha, 3-0 against HOPS FC. There was a sudden halt in their flow with a 0-0 draw against Misaka United but that was only to be a speed breaker as they bounced back with a massive 14-1 victory against Kahani, 9-0 vs Mata Rukmani, and a 11-1 against Mumbai Knights.
Gokulam Kerala ended the group stage being unbeaten and had 19 points from 7 games, with 6 wins and a draw. What makes them more fierce an opponent in the Quarter Final is that they’ve scored a massive 53 Goals in the 7 games they played whilst conceding only 5.
The story of the IWL debutants East Bengal on the other hand wasn’t quite similar but the expectations from them always remains high anywhere in the Country. The start was upsetting after a 8-2 loss against Gokulam Kerala, but the “Moshal girls” bounced back and sealed their spot in the Top 4 with 13 points from 7 matches, which included 4 wins, a draw, and 2 losses. The East Bengal Women’s Team came all the way to the IWL as the Champions of West Bengal, winning the 2022-23 Calcutta Women’s Football league and have things to prove and hopes to live up to from all their supporters back home who no matter what have their back, as their 12th Man.
Sports Odisha and HOPS FC had to wait for the Final day to seal their birth to the knockout stages. It was as close as it could get, and with chances open for HOPS, Sports Odisha, Misaka United and Mumbai Knights, all four of them were in close contention and had to wait till the final day of the league stage. Sports Odisha held their nerves and a 0-0 draw against Misaka United made sure they were through along with being 2nd over East Bengal with 13 points in their bag as well.
Final day drama was un-escapable and HOPS FC also qualified as the 4th team from group A with 12 points after 7 games. The loss against East Bengal in their final game, could have hurt them more had Mumbai Knights managed to pull an upset against Gokulam Kerala. An unwritten story perhaps but it gives them a chance for their hard work and quality performance to prove in the knockout stages. Sports Odisha had to be content with a 4th place finish in the IWL last season and would be seeking better in this season’s IWL while the Champions of Delhi, would give us no less than a close fight to watch in the Quarter Finals.
Group A was a treat and teams like Mumbai Knights and Misaka United impressed one and all with their wonderful performances and few bright talents to look out for while Mata Rukmani and Kahaani will have to wait for another season to fight back and prove a point because they know why they made it all the way to the IWL, being their respective State Champions.
Coming to Group B, this group also had another top notch show waiting for us. Sethu FC topped the group with 17 points in their tally while Kickstart FC, Odisha FC joined them to form the Top 4 with 16 points each along with Eastern Sporting Union, with 15 points respectively.
Sethu, who have already won the Hero IWL previously, finished 2nd in the last edition of the IWL and continue showing promise to not end this season with anything less than an all out battle. Sethu were also the only unbeaten team in Group B, similar to Gokulam in Group A and scored 25 Goals with conceding only 2 in their 7 matches.
Kickstart FC and Odisha ofcourse had their own neck to neck battle. Odisha who themselves are a debutant had a bunch of big names including the legendary Bala Devi herself. Kickstart FC also had the services of Indian International Dalima Chibber who knows the taste of the Hero IWL title, and they are up for the heated knock out stage as well.
Both Kickstart FC and Odisha FC had 15 points in their bag with 5 wins 1 draw and 1 loss in their 7 group games. It was close and the competition was fierce as all the Top 3 teams of Group B conceded only 2 Goals each. Kickstart FC scored the most number of goals in their group with the number reaching 30 followed by Odisha who reached 28.
The Champions of Manipur, Eastern Sporting Union, representing the North Eastern State who’re known for being a hub of talent also weren’t too far away from the teams above them separated by only 1 point between them. Overall it was a nail biting race to the Top 4 in group B as well, and the rest of the teams in group B were up at task to make it tough as well, with CRPF, Celtic Queens, Lords FA and Churchill Brothers all having atleast a win in their bag even though it wasn’t enough to get the edge past.
Talking about the highlight and stats in short of the tournament so far, the Hero IWL has witnessed 233 goals in a total of 56 matches so far with Nepal International, Sabitra Bhandari of Gokulam Kerala being the top scorer of the league and has got a humongous 26 goals in 7 games averaging over 3 goals per game individually. The goal machine has been a weapon for Gokulam and will be a threat to their opponents in the knockout stages.
The Quarter Finals take place on the 16th followed by the Semi-Finals on 19th and we’re lining up for a grand stand finish to the Hero IWL is the least we can conclude from what we’ve witnessed so far.
Wishing the teams all the very best for the rest of the season and we hope to enjoy the entertaining upward curve of the Hero IWL.
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