The Indian women's football team went down fighting to Swedish top division side Hammarby IF in a friendly fixture at the Hammarby Sports Ground in Stockholm on Wednesday evening. Both Indian goals arrived in the first half courtesy of Indumathi Kathiresan's left-footed strike and Manisa Panna's header.
The Blue Tigresses led 2-1 at half-time but Hammarby launched a comeback in the second half and ultimately took the win by a 3-2 margin. India headed to Sweden on a high following their terrific 1-0 win over higher-ranked Chinese Taipei in a friendly a week ago. Before that, India also beat UAE and Bahrain but suffered a loss against Tunisia.
It was a special occasion for India's coach Thomas Dennerby, who spent eight years of his playing career at Hammarby and also managed the men's team later. He had remarked before the match that the friendlies in Sweden would provide a big test for the Indian women and was proved right on the night.
Indian team impressed in the first half
Led by captain Ashalata Devi, India started off brightly in the first half and we saw some combination play between Anju Tamang and Pyari Xaxa. Midfielder Indumathi Kathiresan handed India the lead at the half-hour mark with a brilliant piece of individual play. She danced around defenders inside the box before releasing a left-footed strike beyond the goalkeeper on the turn.
The lead lasted only six minutes as Swedish international Nina Jakobsson headed Hammarby level following a corner. But India responded with a set-piece goal of their own before half-time. Anju Tamang's inch-perfect delivery was nodded in by defender Manisa Panna to put India back in the lead.
Coach Dennerby didn't wait long before rolling out changes in the second half. Dangmei Grace and Ranjana Chanu came on, while important minutes were given to goalkeeper Linthoingambi Devi and 17-year-old Martina Thokchom.
Hammarby drew level once again in the 52nd minute through an Amanda Sundström finish from the edge of the box. The Blue Tigresses did not sit back and pushed for a winner. Most of the attacks came from the left flank where youngsters Manisha Kalyan and Martina Thokchom caused problems for the hosts' defense.
Hammarby's physicality proved tough to deal with for India as they always threatened from aerials and set-piece situations. In the 78th minute, the Swedish side took the lead for the first time in the match. Nina Jakobsson was involved once again as her header was nudged into India's net by Ranjana Chanu for an own goal.
India had a few more chances going forward towards the end via Manisha and Renu, but were unable to produce an equalizer against an attentive Hammarby defense.
The home side were able to hold India off for the victory in the friendly. Even with the defeat, Thomas Dennerby's women will not be too disappointed. There are lots of positives to take and the team displayed amazing offensive football against strong European opposition.
This was India's first of two friendlies against Damallsvenskan (Sweden's top division of women's football) clubs. The Blue Tigresses will face Djurgårdens IF in the second friendly on Saturday, 23 October.
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