ISLAMABAD: Defending champions India and Bangladesh emerged as the strongest competitors in the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women’s Championship Group A, registering massive wins at the Jinnah Stadium on Thursday.
India thrashed Maldives 8-0 in the opening match, with four goals from Ngangom bala Devi, two from Yumnam Kamla and one each from Oinam Bembem Devi and Jvoti Ann Burrett.
Maldives contained India in the first half, and had conceded only one goal till the break. However, the defending champions staked their claimed as competition favourites in the second half with seven goals.
Despite the defeat, the Maldives players remained upbeat and said that given that Maldives is a small country where they have only four teams in the national league, taking part in the tournament is special in itself.
“We’re playing for our nation, representing a small country,” said player Hanwa Haneefa. “Although we lost to India, we know that we can’t let a defeat bring us down.”
Meanwhile, Bangladesh also routed Afghanistan in the second match of the day. Afghanistan had taken a shock lead in the 23rd minute with Marjan’s goal, but Bangladesh hit back in style as Maynumrama equalised in the 34th minute. Srimatai Krishna Rani then scored a hat-trick, with Sabina Kahtoon and Masummat Maunmum Ather also getting in on the scoresheet.
Afghanistan’s goalkeeper Wida Zemarai hit her head against the post while attempting a save and had to be taken to a hospital, requiring two stitches after having lost consciousness on the field.
Bangladesh’s Japanese coach Tsuki Tate said that he was delighted with the win. “Every match is important,” Tate told The Express Tribune. “I don’t know what is going to happen next, anyone can win the championship.”
Meanwhile, the head of Bangladesh delegation, Mehfoza Begum, said that hiring a Japanese coach for the championship was a smart decision and the team has delivered a good result. “Tate has been with us for almost two months,” said Begum. “It’s a great opportunity for the women to make their mark. Female football in Bangladesh is still improving and needs time.”
Pakistan can learn from Afghanistan fans
Afghanistan may have lost but their team was the only one that had supporters cheering for them in a stadium that has a 60,000 capacity.
Two of Afghanistan’s fans, Mustafa Hussaini and Naveed Anwari, said that it was important for them to cheer on Afghanistan and had therefore showed up. “I can say that there is a lack of awareness among the people here,” said Mustafa. “I came to cheer the team, and painted my face. I’m not disappointed with the result, because Bangladesh deserved to win. Our players seemed a little out of shape.”
Meanwhile, Anwari said that he had taken a day off from work to come watch the match. “We lost but it’s important to show support,” he said. “Hopefully in the upcoming matches, we’ll bring a larger crowd to the match.”
The no-show from the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi has disappointed the Pakistan Football Federation, with marketing director Naveed Haider saying that it is time for the people to appreciate the women’s team and support them instead of going to political demonstrations.
“A simple question is why the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi can’t come to see the matches, when they can go to sit-ins,” said Haider. “It’s disappointing because it sends out a wrong message. An empty stadium is very saddening. These women are playing in an international event, and we expected people to at least show their support. There is no entry fee for this event. The security also shouldn’t be concern as the Jinnah Stadium is a safe venue for families.”
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