Indian Women's League: Semifinalists face the crunch with little margin for error

Gokulam Kerala FC faces Manipur Police SC in the first semifinal, which will be followed by Sethu FC taking on SSB Central Women's Football Team.

Manipur Police SC takes on a Gokulam Kerala side that breezed past the group stage with five wins from five matches.   -  AIFF media

It’s that time of the tournament again. The time when teams have little margin for error, with the tournament semifinals starting on Monday.

Gokulam Kerala and Manipur Police, which have been in prolific goal-scoring form so far, will face off in first semifinal, which will be an early kick-off.

Gokulam cruised through its group with a perfect record of five victories in as many matches, scoring 16 and conceding just one. Manipur, on the other hand, has let in eight, but netted a whopping 37 goals in its five matches.

However, Manipur Police suffered an early hiccup in the group stage, when it lost 4-6 against Group II topper Sethu FC. It seems to have put that defeat well behind it, however, as it went on to post two 10-0 victories against SAI-STC Cuttack and Baroda Football Academy.

“We have set up our team to play good attacking football. We’ve spent time on the drawing board and chalked-out our tacticks against Manipur,” said Gokulam head coach Priya P. V. “But Manipur are also a very good side. So we are going to defend as a team. We need to defend every zone properly.”

The Kerala side has a dynamic system, which allows it to fluidly shift between a two-pronged attack and a 4-3-3 formation. The presence of versatile India international Manisha makes this possible for them. While the likes of Naocha Devi and Chhibber hold fort in the middle of the park, Manisha is given the freedom to bomb forward and join Anju Tamang in attack.

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Gokulam has a stable defence as well, with the likes of India internationals Michel Castanha and Poli Koley holding the centre-back positions, aided by wingbacks Wangkhem Linthoi and U-19 India International Papki Devi, who are all backed-up by the calm and collective keeper Maibam Linthoi.

Manipur has played some great quality football and been one of the best teams in the tournament so far. Its success has been dependent on the fact that it has played a fluid game, often stretching the opposition defence.

“We do not have any set formation per say,” said Manipur Police head coach Surmala Chanu. “We are ready to change our formation according to the situation. Depending on how Gokulam play, we can change things around.”

Manipur Police, coached by Surmala Chanu, is also a versatile side that, like Gokulam, can shift between a three-pronged and a two-pronged attack. However, it is the presence of Bina Devi in the fullback position, that makes its setup all the more interesting.

—Sethu FC takes on gritty SSB—

The second semifinal will take place at 4pm between Group II topper Sethu FC and Group I runner-up SSB Central Women's Football Team.

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Sethu FC finished top of Group II, while SSB Central Women's Football Team finished runner-up in Group I.   -  AIFF media

 

Sethu has been in prolific form so far in this tournament, netting a whopping 34 goals in five matches. SSB, however, has been more of a compact unit.

“We have played well in the Group Stage, and we want to continue in the same vein by playing attacking football,” said Sethu head coach Amrutha Aravind. “So far, whatever we had worked on the training pitch before the tournament, had worked out for us. SSB are a good young side, but we intend to keep playing our attacking brand off football and march on.”

While it has formidable attackers in the form of India internationals Dangmei Grace and Sandhiya, and Nepal international Sabitra Bhandari, the Madurai team has also shored up its defence with India centrebacks Sweety Devi and Ashalata Devi.

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SSB has quietly gone about its job, racking up four wins from its five matches. It has eked out results after an early 0-5 thrashing at the hands of Gokulam.

“Yes, we had lost badly to Gokulam, but that match gave us the opportunity to retrospect and tweak the way we play,” said SSB assistant coach Sujata Kar. “We have analysed Sethu’s game-play and have made our plans accordingly. They may be one of the best teams in the tournament, but we will play to win tomorrow.”

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