Indian National team kickstarted their AFC Women’s Asian Cup campaign yesterday against debutants Iran at the DY Patil Stadium. The match ended in a stalemate, the Blue Tigresses created plenty of chances to score and dominated the entire game, but the numerous missed chances and some incredible saves from the Iranian goalkeeper prevented India from winning the match.
India is clubbed in Group A along with strong teams and the most successful team in the completion, China, three times former champions Chinese Taipei, and Iran. Therefore they will look to reach the quarterfinals first and then look to carry it forward from there. Dennerby is well aware of the fact that reaching the knockouts will be their primary aim. Four teams qualified for the semifinals will get to feature in next year’s FIFA World Cup. So it is surely a great opportunity for the Blue Tigresses to go out there and prove their mettle against the biggest teams in Asia.
Having said that let’s have a look at the top 5 Indian players that might catch your eye with their performance in the tournament.
5) Dangmei Grace
Dangmei Grace will be looking to own the flanks for the Blue Tigresses. In the absence of talismanic Bala Devi, Dangmei Grace will be India’s most experienced and potent attacking outlet. Known for her blistering pace, Dangmei Grace’s performances will be pivotal for the Blue Tigresses on the break. In 47 appearances for India, Grace has scored 16 goals and will be a very vital cog in Thomas Dennerby’s system.
The 25-year-old winger will look to combine with her other fellow forwards and create goalscoring opportunities. Grace needs to put her best foot forward for India as a lot will depend on her.
4) Indumathi Kathiresan
At club level, Indumathi Kathiresan plies her trade for Sethu FC. The 27-year-old midfielder can play as a box-to-box midfielder or as a creative outlet. Whether Thomas Dennerby opts to play three midfielders or a double pivot, Indumathi Kathiresan will be pivotal in the middle of the park for the host nation.
Indumathi can also chip in with goals to help the Indian attack. She was the top scorer of the 2019 edition of the SAFF Women’s Championship. If not for Ashalata Devi, Indumathi would captain the Indian team in the tournament. Indumathi Kathiresan has been a national team regular since 2014.
3) Aditi Chauhan
Aditi Chauhan is one of the experienced names on the roster. Only two players from the squad have donned the Indian national team jersey more than Aditi. She is the first woman from the Indian national team to have played competitive football in England. Aditi Chauhan played for West Ham Ladies for three seasons. In the 2019-20 season, the 29-year-old won the Hero IWL title with Gokulam Kerala.
Two of the three opponents of India in the group stages are better-ranked teams. So, India will have to do a lot of defending and the Blue Tigresses would hope Aditi Chauhan is at her best for them to have any chance of finishing in the top two positions in the group. Aditi will have a lot of responsibility on her shoulders guarding India’s goal in the quadrennial tournament.
2) Yumnam Kamala Devi
Kamala Devi can play both as a midfielder and a striker. Kamala Devi is the most prolific player of the 23 players squad chosen to represent the national team at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. She has scored 33 goals for the national team.
Kamala Devi has been a part of four SAFF Women’s Championship-winning sides and two South Asian Games gold medal-winning teams. She was also a part of the team that cleared the first round of the Olympic Qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics, a historic achievement for the women’s football team.
1) Loitongbam Ashalata Devi
Loitongbam Ashalata Devi is likely to be the captain of the team. She is not just the best defender from the country, but perhaps from the continent. She was one of the nominees for the AFC Women’s Player of the Year in 2019. Ashalata Devi is the most experienced campaigner on the Indian side with 64 international caps and is expected to lead the squad. With 15 of the 23 players in the Indian squad under the age of 25, Ashalata will have the responsibility of marshaling the youngsters.
Ashalata Devi will be crucial to the stability of the Indian backline. She has played and won four consecutive SAFF Women’s Championships and has two South Asian Games gold medals while representing India.
Dalima Chhibber is the team’s first-choice right-back. She has represented the women’s national team at all age-group levels. Her debut game for the senior side was against the Maldives in 2016. She has captained India at the U-19 and the senior levels. Dalima Chhibber plies her trade for the Indian Women’s League side Gokulum Kerala. She had played for two years at the Canadian University side Manitoba Bisons.
The Delhi-born full-back is one of the first names in the starting XI. Chhibber has been influential for the national team on both sides of the pitch. For India to have any chance of making it to the knockout stages, the Blue Tigresses would want Dalima to be at her best against the superior opposition forwards.
India’s new sensation, Manisha Kalyan will definitely be a prospect to watch out for in this tournament. Recently she created history by scoring a goal against Brazil. She was India’s best performer at the Four-Nation Tournament and will look to carry on that form to the continental tournament. The 19-year-old forward was named the Emerging Player of the Year by the All India Football Federation in the 2020-21 season.
She also became the first-ever Indian player to score in a top-flight Asian competition as she found the back of the net for Gokulam Kerala FC in a 2021 AFC Women’s Asian Championship, against Uzbekistan’s FC Bunyodkor. She is extremely strong, has the pace to burn, and has that eye for goals. In Bala Devi’s absence, Manisha Kalyan will hope to fill in that void for Thomas Dennerby’s team.
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