After 180 minutes of football, India’s chances of progressing through the group stage of the U-17 Women’s World Cup are over. The hosts lost 3-0 to Morocco in the debutants’ duel at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday. With no points from two games, India mathematically cannot qualify for the knockout stages if there is one game left.
While the huge 8-0 defeat by USA in the opening game was understandable, India’s defeat by Morocco is their own fault. Although they fought brilliantly, two mistakes, both in the second half, cost them the game and their chances in the tournament.
It was also a big moment for Morocco, who won their first FIFA Women’s World Cup.
— FIFA Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWC) October 14, 2022
India coach Thomas Dennerby had said before this game that his team “must fight and have no other option”. And that is exactly what India has done.
India looked nervous and lost against the USA. They were tactically and physically overwhelmed. It seemed like they learned their lesson quickly. Against Morocco they were strong, defended boldly and were able to worry Morocco with their attacks, which they absolutely lacked in the opening game.
Morocco, who lost by just one goal to Brazil in their opening game, went into the game as favourites. It was their defensive play that disrupted the popular Brazilian attack and India knew they had to come up with something out of the ordinary if they were to score.
Dennerby made three changes to the starting XI, including the signing of goalkeeper Melody Keisham, and it seemed to be working. With a good combination of Nitu Linda and Kajol D’souza in midfield, India managed to carve out a few moves that disrupted the Moroccan defense but it was the last ball for striker Neha who missed.
India had just over 40 percent possession for the first half hour of the game and it seemed like everything was going according to plan for Dennerby’s side. To stay alive in the tournament, India needed at least a point. Expectations rose when the first half ended goalless. Could India really get their first point at a FIFA event?
Any hope of that was dashed six minutes after the break. In the chaos that ensued after a corner from Morocco, India defender Naketa touched the ball with her outstretched hand while trying to block a shot and eliminate the threat. The referee immediately whistled and pointed to the spot.
Moroccan striker Doha El Madani made no mistake with her penalty and although Melody guessed the direction correctly, the shot was too powerful and out of reach.
Build up pressure
India did not sit back. They played with more brains. The Moroccan defense looked even more shaky as India increased the pressure.
And just when India looked at their most menacing, Morocco doubled the lead, making the best of a mistake by Melody.
The African nation thwarted an Indian attack and launched a counterattack of their own in the 61st minute. Melody fumbled trying to concede a simple cross from the right.
Moroccan captain Yasmine Zouhir, who plays for French club AS Saint-Etienne, waited in the middle and fired the ball in with a powerful left foot to double her team’s score.
Despite being two goals behind, India did not give up. Striker Anita Kumari had the best chance to concede in the 83rd minute after perfectly timing her run down the left flank to get a through ball and go one-on-one with goalkeeper Wissal Tittah. Anita opted to hit it at the first post, but Tittah tapped correctly and sent it to the corner.
Anita’s shot was India’s only shot on target in the tournament’s two games. As time was running out, India looked famished. All the work they have put in over the last 10 months with exposure trips to Norway, Italy and Spain and training camps in Jamshedpur and Bhubaneswar has gone down the drain. They tried to put on a brave face, but you could see they had lost hope.
Cherif Djennah added further insult to injury in the first minute of stoppage time, easily going past the Indian defense and pushing them past Melody.
India meet Brazil in their final group game on Monday and although qualifying is out of the question, they are hoping to at least score a goal against the South American giants.