The joy on their faces and the way they celebrated revealed a story in itself. Ranked way below India in the FIFA rankings at 129 — India is at 57 — and widely expected to bite the dust, Maldives pulled off the impossible by holding the hosts to a goalless draw in a women’s football league match of the 12th South Asian Games, which commenced at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex here on Friday.
Earlier, Nepal scored a convincing 3-0 victory over Bangladesh.
Defending champion India hardly put a foot wrong: wonderful, precise passes, quick counter-attacks down the flanks; nice feel for the ball; overall it played attractive football. In short, it did everything but score.
Sasmita Malik made things happen for India with her run-ins from the left flank and the middle, providing inch-perfect passes for the forwards. First, Bembem Devi failed to head home a cross, then Sasmita’s one-touch pass saw Prameshwori Devi making a hash of it near the goalmouth.
Maldives made amends for its pathetic frontline with a solid show at the back. The full-backs Aminath Zaahiya and Sanfa Ibrahim Didi nullified several goal-scoring moves by strikers Kamala Devi and Dangmei Grace.
As in the first half, the second session saw half-a-dozen gilt-edged chances wasted. Grace’s header going wide of the post and Kamala Devi’s left-footed shot sailing past the post, were a couple of the umpteen chances that the hosts failed to capitalise on. India next takes on Sri Lanka on February 9.
Maldives coach Naoko Kawamoto of Japan was thrilled with the outcome. “I’m so happy. I didn’t expect the result,” she said. “We wanted to play deep and stop the aerial balls and succeeded in that.”
While congratulating Maldives for its fine show, India coach Sajid Yousuf Dhar, said India failed to capitalise on its chances and definitely missed the services of Bala Devi, who he assured would be available for the next match. Nepal, which had arrived in the city late on Thursday, displayed lot of spunk in its 3-0 win with goals from Dipa Rai, Anu Lama and Niru Thapa.
Football will be held on alternate days with the final on February 15.
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