The Indian women's football team had a disappointing start to the year after their 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup campaign in January was cut short due to a Covid-19 breakout in the squad. It was a major disappointment for the players as they missed out on showcasing their skills on the grandest stage in Asia.
But this unfortunate incident further fuelled their hunger to prove their mettle. In April, when they returned to action they not only defeated Egypt and Jordan but also maintained two clean sheets. The Blue Tigressess were rewarded handsomely as they climbed three places in the latest FIFA rankings announced on June 17 to be placed at the 56th spot. A commendable feat, given that it becomes more difficult to climb north as a side gets closer to the top 50.
This was the reward for winning consecutive games against Egypt and Jordan in a tri-nation-friendly tournament that they played in April, earlier this year. And despite losing 1-0 to Sweden, a highly-accomplished and superior side, in the WU23 3-nations tournament on Thursday, there is little doubt that it is another emphatic step in the right direction.
73’ CHANCE FOR INDIA 🇮🇳— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) June 22, 2022
Pyari gets the ball from Manisha on the left flank, she pulls the trigger but misses the target and goes wide 😢
SWE 0-0 IND
📺 https://t.co/GKyKvyJSae#SWEIND ⚔️ #BackTheBlue 💙 #BlueTigresses 🐯 #ShePower 👧 #IndianFootball ⚽
Sweden amongst the best in the world
To put things into perspective, the Swedish national team are ranked second in the world and are merely 43 points behind, world champions USA. The Blue and Yellow won the silver medal in the 2020 Olympic Games and bagged bronze in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. And against such a fierce side the Indian team held the fort for more than 90 minutes. It was finally a setpiece that brought their downfall as Linn Vickius slotted the ball home after a melee in the penalty box in the dying seconds of the match.
Aditi Chauhan shone the brightest for India for the bulk of the match, but her howler in the 98th minute dashed India's hopes to secure a point. The keeper put in an impressive shift throughout the match and made numerous saves to deny the opposition forwards. Credit to the Indian backline as well for soaking in the pressure as Sweden kept raiding India's fort with intent and purpose. It was almost job done but a lapse in concentration saw the keeper misjudge the flight of the ball from the corner and Vinckius made no mistake to punish the error.
One of the best performances
Nonetheless, this performance by the Indian team should go down as one of their best performances. It was a disciplined performance by the defenders against one of the best footballing nations in the world. They maintained their composure, stuck to the plan, and frustrated the Swedish attack with their resilience. It was also heartening to watch India gallop forward with swift counter attacks. Manisha Kalyan and later on Pyari Xaxa could have even got their names on the scoresheet if they were a bit more clinical.
As we take stock of a brilliant performance, much of the credit goes to the man at the helm of affairs. The spirit and the level-headedness India showed against Sweden will be a vindication of coach Thomas Dennerby's methods. It is evident that the national team has grown in confidence and stature since they started training under him. Although the tactician has not travelled with the team, as he is busy with the U-17 girls, there is little doubt that he must have shared his valuable inputs about his former team with interim head coach Suren Chhetri.
Despite the last gasp defeat, this has to be one of India's best performances in recent history. The girls bridged the gulf in quality between the two sides with collective and inspired performance. There has been a distinct difference in the mentality of the players which was reflected in their body language, approach, and gameplay. There remains an even stiffer challenge as they will go up against the number one side in USA, and this result will be a massive morale booster before taking on the world champions.