AFC U14 Championship

Indian Women’s team has often performed superbly on the big stage and this was evident once again as the U14 Women’s team notched up a series of brilliant results in the South & Central Asia Group of AFC U14 Championship in Colombo. Head coach Priya Parathi Valappil had every right to be proud of her team’s performance.

The U14 team opened its campaign against Tajikistan on 5th March and recorded a fine 3-0 victory. India took just 12 minutes to draw first blood as Pooja Dhamal assisted Kashmina’s goal. 13 minutes later the same player doubled India’s lead. The half time score board read 2-0 in favour of India and the ladies had to be extra thankful towards custodian Shreya Hooda for stopping a Tajik penalty kick on 13th minute. India took a much more relaxed approach and second half as their defence played out a spotless match. Scindia Veganand Saundatikar scored India’s third goal on 70th minute to round off the score-line as the ladies notched up an emphatic win.

Indian defence was breached against Bangladesh in the second match but the ladies recorded an even more convincing victory by scoring five times. In one of the fastest goals scored in any level of football, Daya Devi took just 14 seconds to convert Nisha Bageria’s pass into the opening goal. Kashmina, the heroine of first match, opened her score-book on 15th minute as she headed in Roja Devi Asem’s corner. Anline Sharmila Fernandes stretched India’s advantage further by making it 3-0 on 26th minute. Bangladesh’s hopes were raised slightly when they pulled a goal back in second half on 41st minute. However, Indian women were in no mood to drop points as Soni Kumari and Roja struck on 61st and 70th minutes respectively to complete the rout.

With this win India climbed to the top of table, level on points with Iran but behind on goal-difference. Led by Kashmina, the flood gates opened with a bang in the third match as India thumped hosts Sri Lanka 10-0. Kashmina scored a double hattrick, one in each half with goals coming on (7th, 29th, 35th, 59th, 65th and 68th minutes). Daya Devi and Pooja Dhamal also joined the party, scoring a brace each, celebrating the eve of International Women’s day with style. Sri Lanka had begun the tournament with a solid win over Bhutan but failed to provide an answer to Indian women’s lively charge. Incredibly, all of India’s 10 goals came without a single spot kick.

India’s huge win coupled with Iran’s 5-1 defeat Bhutan meant that the Indian ladies had leapfrogged Iran on top thanks to goal difference. On 7th March India and Iran squared off in an early morning kick-off CR & FC Ground in Colombo. It was a clash of table toppers and the winner of this match was all but guaranteed the top place in the group. As the kick-off whistle went off a keen content started as the teams matched each other blow by blow. It was India who got the first breakthrough, as Kashmina, once again, found the net on 19th minute. Nisha Bageria doubled India’s advantage nine minutes later. It looked like the girls were cruising at 2-0 but Iran pulled one goal back within a minute of India’s second goal through Fatemeh Ghaseri. There was all to play for in second half as the first half ended 2-1 to India.

The pep talk the girls had during half time worked wonders in second half as they read the riot act to an Iranian defence in disarray. In a spectacular eight minute phase between 54th and 62nd minutes, India struck four times. Nisha completed her hattrick with goals on 54th and 62nd minutes while Daya Devi’s brace on 57th and 59th minute was sandwiched in between. With this emphatic win over their biggest rivals, India U14 girls took a firm control of the group and were all set to top it.

Despite wrapping up the title effectively Indian girls didn’t show any signs of slowing down when they took on Bhutan in the last match. India’s neighbours had suffered defeats in all matches and the form-book suggested another big win for Indian girls. India got off to an expected start when Daya Devi opened the scoring on 2nd minute. Pooja Dhamal grabbed the second goal seven minutes later with Daya Devi Roja Devi and Nisha scoring on 14th, 23rd and 39th minutes respectively to give India a commanding 5-0 lead at the lemon break. Kashmina, the tournament top scorer was yet to get her name on the score-sheet and she made amennds in second half by grabbing a splendid hat-trick by scoring on 52nd, 62nd and 68th minutes. Dhamal grabbed a second goal as India ended the tournament with a thumping 9-0 win.

India’s final record in AFC U14 Championship – Played – 5, Won – 5, Goals Scored – 33, Goals Conceded – 2.

Last year, a number of players from this team, including MK Kashmina (who was the captain) participated in AFC U13 tournament in the same location. They surely gained a lot from that tour and it clearly showed in their performance in the U14 tournament. India’s top scorer Kashmina is undoubtedly a talent to keep an eye on in future as she finished as top scorer despite being a midfielder. The youngster has represented India with distinction and also scored the match winner in the final when Oriental English School, Manipur won the U17 Subroto Cup in September last year. The likes of captain Roja Devi, Daya Devi and Pooja Dhamal have also shown top drawer performances. This was undoubtedly a wonderful performance from the team and should prompt AIFF to give more facilities to women’s football in the country, including a national league, so that women’s football can continue progress in right direction.