AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: The Blue Tigresses suffered a heart-breaking 1-2 loss to Chinese Taipei in their opening game in Group B at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Anju Tamang's opener was cancelled out by two late Chinese Taipei goals to leave India empty-handed, yet with the belief that they weren't too far from one of the top teams on the continent.
From the opening moments of the encounter itself, it was clear that the Indian Women's team were a far better prepared and more cohesive unit than their male counterparts, no doubt in part due to the long time they spent in camp together prior to the Games. Despite facing higher-ranked opposition, they were not cowed, and within the first minute, Manisha Kalyan, returning to National duty, showed her quality. Her first touch took her away from her marker and soon she was running into space. Her low, fizzing cross was hastily cleared by Chinese Taipei.
The resultant corner almost yielded a goal, Dalima Chhibber’s ball at the near post was barely put wide by Teng Pei-Lin under pressure from Indumathi Kathiresan. From there, though, Chinese Taipei seized control of the game, slowly suffocating India off the ball and then space. In the sixth minute, the pressure told, a mistake in the Indian midfield saw Chen Yen-Ping unmarked inside the box, played through and bearing on goal. Her shot was smothered by Shreya Hooda to keep the score level.
Chinese Taipei kept possession and moved the ball around smoothly, but India constantly looked dangerous on the counter. Indumathi and Manisha were at the centre of anything good from the Blue Tigresses, their first touch and ability to find gaps to spray passes were crucial to India's counter-attacks. Around the 20th-minute mark, Indumathi played a brilliant ball to set Anju Tamang free, and it required quick thinking from the goalkeeper, who came way off her line to clear and kill the danger.
At the other end, Chinese Taipei created their chances, but Hooda was regularly at hand to keep her clean sheet intact, never really extending without need. India's best chance and perhaps the closest anyone came in the half was in the 36th minute. Manisha Kalyan's pace had constantly been a threat, and this time, as she drove into the box, she had two targets to pick from, in Bala Devi and Tamang. Her eventual decision was to go with a shot that hit the crossbar and dropped perfectly into Tamang's path. Tamang’s shot was closed down by a desperate Taipei defence.
Thomas Dennerby's halftime team talk probably involved a rousing speech, because India were flying off the blocks upon the restart. Almost from the whistle India got the opener, with Tamang picking up the ball on the flank and driving into the box at speed. Her low shot was spilled by the goalkeeper into Manisha's path. With the goal gaping, she shot, but it was blocked on the line by the last defender. The rebound fell perfectly to Tamang, though, who slammed it into the roof of the net to spark the celebrations.
Chinese Taipei were stunned and it took them the better part of 10 minutes to recover. In that period, India looked the likelier to score, and created the bulk of the chances. Tamang was again at the centre of the action, her cross tipped by the 'keeper into Manisha's path in the 66th. Manisha blazed high.
Three minutes later India were made to pay for their inefficiency, some brilliant interplay at the top of the box, giving Lai Li-Chin a fraction of space to take a shot. She shot brilliantly, the ball hitting the underside of the crossbar before nudging in. With the wind in their sails, Chinese Taipei took control of the game and scored the winner in the 84th minute, Su Yu-Hsuan capitalising on a rare miscommunication in defence to run onto a long ball and score into an empty net. For India, it was a distressing result but also a sign that they were playing on equal terms with higher-ranked opposition and a sign that there would be more to come.
India XI: Shreya Hooda, Sanju Yadav, Ashalata Devi, Sweety Devi, Dalima Chhibber, Sangita Basfore (Astam Oraon 45'), Indumathi Kathiresan, Anju Tamang, Dangmei Grace (Priyangka Devi 75'), Manisha Kalyan (Soumya Guguloth 82'), Bala Devi (Jyoti Chouhan 63').