SAFF Women’s Championship – Indian Gals on a New High

As India is attracting spectators at the famed Indian Super League (ISL), taking Indian football to a new position, our Indian women footballers too proved their mettle at the SAFF Women’s Championship held from November 11 to 21 in Pakistan, Islamabad. India smashed Nepal for the third time clinching the SAFF football championship 6-0. This extraordinary feat surely takes India a step ahead.

In a one-sided match between India and Nepal which ended in a 6-0 victory for the Indian team, Ngangom Bala Devi was the star player and played a pivotal role in India’s victory as she blasted four goals and left the Nepalese side running around on the field. Assisted by Kamala and Prameshwori Devi, who also found their names on the score sheet, the Indian side looked unstoppable.

India on a winning spree

India has won all three editions of this championship since its inception in 2010. This influential and successive win puts Indian women football on a strong base. Bala Devi feels ecstatic on India’s win and appreciates Pakistan for being such a good host and extending support to the Indian side. The win was also special as Indian captain Oinam Bembem played her last match in Pakistan. The captain is retiring from the SAFF Championship now. Leaving the sport with such a victory comforted her.

The victorious Indian team had their feet on the ground even after winning the championship and praised the host country for its improved performance (even though Pakistan went out in the first round) and warm welcome to big names and bringing more honour to the game of football.

The women’s Indian football team which is currently ranked 53rd in the world, have scored 36 goals in total in all the five matches that they have played. With the women performing so well, it would not be an exaggeration to say that FIFA Cup qualification could be a reality. Our Indian women footballers achieved what the Indian men footballers could not. The men’s team succeeded in entering the final of the SAFF Cup last year but their dreams were shattered as Afghanistan took away the trophy with a 2-0 win.

As India clinched the SAFF Cup title for the third time, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) did not hesitate to congratulate and appreciate the Indian team’s performance at the SAFF Cup in Pakistan. AIFF president Praful Patel congratulated the Indian team and also spoke about the talented players.

Asian Football Confederation 

It was a big boost to the Indian women players who are neglected most of the time for their efforts and dedication towards the game. However, the growing tournaments and even the senior national women’s championship have helped in discovering talents in India, leading to development of football in the country.

The Indian women squad is now all set to make waves at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The national men’s team players who currently have the advantage of playing in the Indian Super League also praised the women’s team for achieving this feat. “Well, I am extremely proud of Indian women’s football team on winning the SAFF Cup for the 3rd straight time. It’s not easy to win a tournament. Many people do not know about our Indian women’s football team. They don’t get much support still they do so much of hard work and this time they beat Nepal 6-0 which was completely amazing. I am proud of them and proud to be an Indian. I also think that we should encourage and support them more in their football career”, said Steven Dias, well-known as the Indian David Beckham and plays for Delhi Dynamos FC (ISL).

Women’s World Cup

Even though our women players performed extraordinarily, there are things that can be done better for the players. Long term goals need to be implemented. “Our team has won the SAFF Cup for the third time in a row and India is proud of these girls. But we need to set and implement a long term goal of reaching the women’s World Cup now. The girls have been proving their mettle. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the State association must come forward to build a grass-roots plan as well as residential academies for female players. A professional league like ISL or I-league would be a boon to women’s football but the question is when?” expressed Nancy Gupta, Delhi State football player who recently participated in the course for top women referees under the auspices of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in cooperation with the All India Football Federation.

The eight SAFF members 

The SAFF Women’s Championship consists of 8 members – India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The tournament is held every two years. The first edition was played in 2010. So far, India won all three championships, beating Nepal every time in the finals. India is the defending champion. Last year, the SAFF committee chose Jinnah Sports Stadium in Islamabad, Pakistan, as host for the 3rd SAFF Women’s Championship. The entry to matches was free. Despite that the number of spectators was minute. A few matches were televised as well.

Pakistan proved to be a good host

In the presence of AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, secretary of Asia’s football governing body Dato’ Alex Soosay, SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin, Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi, Tengku Abdullah, honorary president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), and also the president of the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF), the Indian national football team’s hat-trick proved their dominant role in Indian football. Indian football is beginning to recuperate and gaining strength with time. Women’s football is catching up with youngsters too.

The sport was played in a country that is often not considered safe and also is thought of as devoid of international facilities. But the success of SAFF Championship along with big football bodies ensured smooth running of matches. Pakistan proved to be a good host to international tournaments. Soosay, secretary of Asia’s football governing body, was very much pleased with Pakistan as a host. Whatever may happen ahead, Pakistan has ensured one thing – they are ready to host larger football events ahead.