India’s Paris Olympics dreams ended at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Sunday when it went down fighting to Vietnam 1-3 in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Group C encounter.
Having lost its second consecutive match in a row, India is now out of contention for the Olympics despite having a match in hand. In the first match, India lost to former World Cup champion Japan.
Interestingly, all four goals of the afternoon were scored with the heads of the respective scorers – Huyn Nhu, Tran Thi Hai Linh, and Pham Hai Yen for Vietnam, and Sandhiya Ranganathan for India.
Head coach Thomas Dennerby made four changes to the India starting XI that played against Japan, opting to field Elangbam Panthoi Chanu in goal, while Ritu Rani slotted in at right-back instead of an injured Dalima Chhibber. Soumya Guguloth and Manisha Kalyan were also brought in to add some pace to the wide areas.
Bala Devi was posted as a deep-lying midfielder by Dennerby, while Soumya Guguloth and Anju Tamang kept switching between the centre-forward and the right-wing positions.
The experiment did not pay off against Vietnam, however, as the opponent launched a barrage of attacks in the opening exchanges. Its captain and striker Huyn Nhu got on the scoresheet in the fourth minute itself, when some confusion between India centre-back Ashalata Devi and right-back Sanju resulted in a loss of possession. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dung capitalised on the confusion and sent in a cross from the right flank, which was headed in by Nhu.
Vietnam struck again in the 22nd minute when an unmarked Tran Thi Hai Linh headed a Doung Thi Van cross from the right, into the Indian goal.
India mainly relied on counter-attacks, Manisha being the primary outlet with her darting runs down the left. However, its best chance came from Bala, whose glancing shot off a Sanju corner trickled inches wide of the far post.
Bala moved back to the number 10 role in the later exchanges of the first half, Soumya remaining up top, as Indumathi dropped deep. That changed, however, in the second half, as Dennerby brought on Sangita Basfore in place of the 33-year-old striker, to act as a shield for the defence after the change of ends. Astam Oraon also replaced Ashalata, who was on a yellow.
While the changes did lend a certain amount of stability to the Indian defence, they did little to provide much joy in attack. Striker Renu was introduced into the game with around 20 minutes to go, to bolster the attack. However, a minute later, lightning struck thrice as Vietnam scored with its head again. Substitute Pham Hai Yen was unmarked in the box this time, and made no mistake as she headed in a cross from the right.
The third goal did change things, as India brought on Sandhiya Ranganathan and shifted to a 4-4-2, Renu and Manisha playing up front. The former pulled one back for India, as she ran onto a deep cross-field ball off a deep free-kick by Ritu Rani, and headed it past an onrushing Vietnam keeper.
India plays next against host Uzbekistan on Wednesday.
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