Defending champions India underlined their title credentials with a crushing 6-0 victory over the Maldives in their first match of the fifth SAFF Women’s Football Championship at the Shahid Rangashala on Wednesday.
The undisputed champions of the past four editions, India, showered five goals in first half and added another deep in the second half to complete the rout in Group ‘B’ that also consists another team, Sri Lanka. In a one-sided affair, Sanju struck twice for the Indians while Grace Dangmei, Sandhiya Ranganathan, Indumathi Kathiresan and Ratanbala Devi Nongmaithem scored one each. Nepal had opened their tournament with a 3-0 victory over Bhutan in Group ‘A’ on Tuesday.
India took the match under control from the beginning and the ball was played mostly on Maldives half throughout the game. However, they could have added more goals in the second half but the Maldives defended well and conceded just one that came in the 90th minute. India coach Maymol Nedugadan Rocky was not ready to admit her side had to struggle in the second 45 minutes. “It’s not that we struggled in the second half because we created many scoring chances. We could have scored more goals,” said Rocky after the match.
“It was a good match and we have got four more days to prepare for the next game,” added Rocky whose side will take on Sri Lanka in a match on Sunday. Top two teams from both the groups advance to the semi-finals. Bangladesh is the other team in Group ‘A’. Maldives coach Athif Mohamed, meanwhile, was full of praise of his side despite conceding half a dozen.
“I have to salute my players as three of my players including two central defenders were injured in the last two friendlies. I fielded a few rookies and they gave their best. India is very tough opponents and I am happy with the result,” said Rocky who still sees the possibility of making it to the last four in the three-team Group. “The match against Sri Lanka will be evenly contested. Hopefully, we will be in the semi-finals,” he said.
India drew the first blood as early as in the eighth minute capitalising on a defensive blunder from Maldivian players who had failed to make a proper clearance. Dangmei collected the ball inside the zone and beat Maldivian custodian Aminath Leeza. India doubled their advantage five minutes later through Ranganathan after the unmarked forward took time and made a cool finish with a swift turn at the penalty spot to convert Dangmei cross.
They were 3-0 up in the 22nd after Kathiresan struck with pace from the left to send the ball at the back of the net despite Maldives goalie Leeza getting her hand on the ball. Sanju netted the fourth, her first individual goal of the campaign, in the 27th as she controlled a long pass from Dalima Chhibber inside the zone and took time to slot past goalie Leeza.
The game was virtually over before the break when Nongmaithem scored in a third of the five-minute of stoppage time through a curling freekick from 25 yards. The Indian dominance continued in the second half and waited until the 90th minute with Sanju scoring her second. She struck almost from the centre of the field. Bhutan will take on Bangladesh in the second Group ‘A’ match on Thursday where the former’s defeat will be enough for Nepal to make it through.
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