The Indian women's team cleared the first round of the Olympic Qualifiers for the first time in the competition's history, despite going down to hosts Myanmar 2-1 in a hard-fought clash at the Thuwunna Stadium on Tuesday (November 13).
The Indian Women progress to the second round of the Olympic Qualifiers courtesy of finishing second in Group C with four points in three matches, behind table-toppers and hosts Myanmar. The second round of the Olympic Qualifiers will be played in April 2019, where twelve teams will be clubbed into three different groups – each containing four teams.
The first half was an exciting affair, with both sides finding the back of the net once. India, who went into the match with the same starting lineup from their 7-1 win against Bangladesh, started off in an unwanted fashion as the hosts scored in just the third minute.
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A cross from the right flank caused havoc in the Indian penalty area and the ball fell to Myanmar's Win Theingi Tun, whose shot on goal deflected off an Indian defender and trickled into the net past custodian Aditi Chauhan. However, much to their credit, the Indian eves responded immediately and pushed forward for the equalizer.
Bala Devi, who scored four in the previous game, found space to shoot from range but she lost her footing at the last moment in the 8th minute. The next chance also fell to India six minutes later after Sanju charged down the left flank to collect a long-range pass from Kamala Devi and came up with a curling shot first-time. However, the keeper was alert to it and made the save while conceding a corner.
The hosts, who drew their last match against Nepal, looked to catch the Indians out on the counter-attack and created two chances in quick succession. In the 18th minute, their forward broke through but placed her shot off target under pressure from defence and just one minute after that, Myanmar hit the crossbar with a long-range effort that rebounded back into play.
India continued their pursuit of the equalizer and were rewarded in the 23rd minute as Grace Dangmei broke free down the right but was fouled just on the edge of the penalty box. From the resulting free-kick, 19-year-old Ratanbala Devi unleashed a sizzling shot right into the top corner of the goal, leaving the goalie with no chance.
The game calmed down a notch after the second goal, with both sides looking to breach the defences of the other. Bala, playing as a playmaker, looked dangerous every time she received the ball. In the 36th minute, Ratanbala fizzed in a dangerous cross from the right across the six-yard box but it evaded the Indian forwards while three minutes later, Myanmar won a free-kick within shooting range, which was blocked by the Indian wall.
The second half was another absorbing affair, with India creating the first chance as Bala Devi's cross-cum-shot from the left flank kissed the top of the crossbar before going out of play. After that, the hosts put some continuous pressure on the Indian goal but the defence stood tall in response.
In the 50th minute, Aditi showed her alertness as she dived swiftly to collect a low cross from the right and nine minutes later, produced the save of the night as she dived sharply to her left to keep out a header that seemed to be heading into the corner.
Bala had another shot saved by the keeper but it was Aditi who was India's best player of the second half as she pulled out a number of saves, most notably in the 73rd minute as she flung to her left to palm away a low shot from the edge of the box.
The Indian resistance, however, was broken with just seven minutes to play as Nge Nge Htwe placed her shot low into the corner after a quick break from the hosts. Coach Maymol Rocky's side pushed for the equalizer till the final whistle and looked to have found one through a header from a corner but the effort, deep into injury time, was cleared off the line as the hosts clinched the three points.
India (Starting XI): Aditi Chauhan, Sweety Devi, Ashalata Devi, Jabamani Tudu, Sangita, Ratanbala Devi, Sanju, Kamala Devi, Bala Devi, Grace Dangmei, Dalima Chhibber