Despite taking the lead and putting up a staggering performance, the Indian women's national team plummeted to a 2-1 defeat against Chinese Taipei in the Asian Games 2023 Group B clash on Thursday.
The Blue Tigresses opened the scoring early on in the second half through Anju Tamang but substitutes Lai Li-Chin and Yu-Hsuan Su sank India's hopes of starting their campaign with a victory.
Building up to the tie, head coach Thomas Dennerby named a full-strength side to face the 38th-ranked team and India started the night on a blistering note. Manisha Kalyan almost ran through the entire opposition defense in the first minute, before a crucial block denied her.
Dalima Chhibber's delivery from the resulting corner found Indumathi Kathiresan on the front post. However, the midfielder's headed attempt thumped into the side-netting as the half-chance went begging.
But as the minutes rolled by, Chinese Taipei expectedly started controlling the proceedings, forcing India into a shell. The first shot on target came from Chi Ting, who got into the Indian box and tested Shreya Hooda. But the custodian was up to the task.
For the Blue Tigresses, the idea was evident - defend deep and then utilize runners like Manisha Kalyan and Anju Tamang to hit the opposition on the break. There was a bit of a punch in India's seemingly regressive approach. Dalima's long through ball almost found Bala Devi in the 18th minute, but Ming-Jung Tsai collected the overcooked pass.
Moments later, Indumathi, showing her creative prowess, delivered another inch-perfect for Anju wide on the right flank. But Tsai raced out of her box to boot away the ball. Another chance fell India's way in the 26th minute when Bala found herself with ample space in the opposition box, but the Taipei shot-stopper collected the timid effort.
The Dennerby-led side continued to chip away at the opposition defense and came agonizingly close to taking the lead in the 36th minute. Manisha evaded her marker on the left and whipped in a cross for Bala Devi. But the ball escaped the forward and struck the post before Tamang's effort from the rebound was blocked.
Meanwhile, at the back, Ashalata Devi and Sanju ensured a clean sheet for the Blue Tigresses until the half-time whistle in the face of attacking barrage from the Mulan.
Chinese Taipei squash India's initial euphoria in the second half
The Blue Tigresses responded to proceedings in the first half with a substitution after the break. Astam Oraon replaced Sangita Bastore who was already on a yellow card.
Replicating their exploits in the first half, India had another blistering start with just a slight difference. This time, the ball did end up in the net.
Anju Tamang made an agricultural run down the right flank after kick-off and drilled in a low cross aimed at the far post. The ball deflected from a defensive touch and fell kindly for Manisha Kalyan who had a stunning crack at the goal. The goalie parried away the first attempt but Tamang was perfectly positioned to tuck home the rebound.
Leaving onlookers astonished, the Blue Tigresses were leading against the Asian heavyweights. But for Dennerby, it was too early to rest on their laurels. The opposition brought on experienced Lai Li-Chin to influence the proceedings and she didn't disappoint.
With gaps steadily emerging in India's defense, Li-Chin found herself with a possible shooting angle and whipped in a looping effort on her weak foot. The ball struck the underside of the crossbar and crept into the net, leveling the scores to India's dismay.
The substitutions had worked as Chinese Taipei were all over the Indians, creating multiple opportunities. Meanwhile, the Indian players looked out of depth as fatigue had started to settle in. In a concerning sight, Manisha went down with cramps and was immediately replaced by Saumya Guguloth.
But with the final whistle inching closer, Yu-Hsuan Su stabbed a dagger into Indian hearts as she capitalized on a judgemental error from Shreya Hooda from a hooved long ball. The Indian custodian mistimed her outing and the substitute latched on to the ball and nudged it into the open net.
India will next face Thailand, another higher-ranked outfit, but will take a lot of pride in their performance tonight.
Chinese Taipei, on the other hand, will face the same opponents three days after India and hope to confirm their berth in the knockouts.