The television audience for tournament opener of the FIFA Women's World Cup between France and South Korea on June 7 touched a record 9.83 million. Played in nine cities in France, the quadrennial event has seen television numbers rise to over 17 million in the U.K. alone; this when England and Wales are in the midst of the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Two women in particular are following the events transpiring in France very closely and they are the star performers of the Indian national football team, goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan and central defender Dalima Chhibber.
Chauhan is following the World Cup action for the second time on television, having seen the live telecast of matches from Canada four years ago. It's no surprise that she is observing goalkeepers' performances closely this time around.
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“Overall it has been a good performance from the goalkeepers; they have set new standards for women’s football. But with the knock out to start, they will face the real test, especially the mental challenge,” she said.
Growing up, Ms. Chauhan idolised American Hope Solo but has now been left heavily impressed by Chilean custodian Christiane Endler.
While Indian participation in the showpiece event is a distant dream, Chauhan and Chibber are realistic about the country's chances, though they do not see it featuring in the World Cup until 2027. “We have to take small steps in the right direction. We should aim to be in the top 10 in Asia first, then build on from there,” said Chauhan.
She points to the debate around the size of the goalposts and pitch in women’s football. But the kind of performances the goalkeepers have been displaying has proved that smaller goalposts and pitch are not needed, she said. “It’s all about skill, and the women have shown that they can play on the same pitch and goalpost specifications as the men.”
The FIFA Women's World Cup has had its fair share of Video Assistant Referee controversies, but Chhibber said its use on a big stage like the World Cup will “only get fair results”.
The players noted the improvements in team fitness and strength. “USA looks the fittest, and has real depth in the squad,” said Chauhan.
Chhibber, who scored through a sensational free kick in India’s 3-1 win against Nepal in the SAFF games final in March, believes women’s football is more organised, and that USA will be the team to watch out for in France. “The players have become very much organised this time,” she said. “Tactics-wise, there has been a lot of improvement. They are making more use of the space in the field. It’s not kicking the ball out and running behind it.”
Chhibber backed USA to win its fourth title in France, calling its level of play different from the others. "They are organised and fast. The make crazy passes,” she added.
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