SAFF Women’s Football: India looks to extend its regional dominance

As the champion of the all three previous editions ever since the tournament was conceived in 2010, India will be the overwhelming favourites to clinch the trophy.

Indian players celebrate their semi-final victory against Nepal.   -  AIFF Media

India will seek to extend its giant status in the region when it meets Bangladesh in the final of the SAFF Women’s Football Championship, here at the Kanchenjunga Stadium on Wednesday. As the champion of the all three previous editions ever since the tournament was conceived in 2010, India will be the overwhelming favourites at home.

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The only worry on its way to claiming the fourth straight crown will be a young Bangladesh side that has already inflicted a dent on the impeccable record of the host. India enjoyed an enviable record winning all the 15 matches while claiming the previous three crowns but Bangladesh put an end to this brilliant sequence holding the defending champion to a goalless draw in the group league stage barely three days ago. India, which beat Afghanistan 5-1, in the first group league outing saw its successful run stopping after 16 wins as the Bangladesh eves put up a gritty defence in the next match to halt the host in its tracks.

Nevertheless, India still remains unbeaten in the tournament history and coach Sajid Dar expects his team to shrug off the setback in the league and perform to its true potential in the final. The convincing 3-1 win over Nepal in the semifinal has got the Indian women back to the winning rhythm and Dar said this will help the team regain the confidence ahead of the final. Nepal, incidentally, had been the runner-up on all previous occasions losing the final each time to India.

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The Indian camp has all the reason to work up its self belief especially against Bangladesh, which has so far managed a clean sheet while scoring the most number of goals – 12 – on its way to the final. On the other hand the Indian attack has not been that incisive managing eight goals in three matches while its defence conceded two goals.

The two camps had an interesting verbal joust that enlivened the atmosphere and the interest ahead of the final. Celebrating its first entry to the final, Bangladesh head Coach Golam Robbani Choton said his team was unlucky not winning against India in the league outing. “Yes, India had more of ball possession, but had Sabina Khatun been able to capitalise on a chance in the 75th minute, we should have won. We have our strategy for tomorrow and will give our best to see that we are the new champion,” Choton said.

The Bangladesh coach drew his confidence from the good form of his two strikers Sabina Khatun and Shopnah who helped Bangladesh beat Afghanistan 6-0 in the league stage before prevailing over Maldives by a same margin in the semi-final.

Indian head coach, Dar, was more reflective saying, “We learnt few lessons from the draw in the league stage we will try to rectify them when we meet them again in the final. We have done well in the semifinal and hope to pick up from there when we go for the title,” Dar set up his team for the title clash. India has a mix of youth and experience, with Captain Bala Devi leading the list of seasoned campaigners. Indumati Devi, Dangmei Grace and Sasmita Malik are some of the other names the host will be banking on ensure its fourth consecutive title.

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