By Sruti Chakraborty
BURIRAM, THAILAND: It wasn’t the best of times for the India Women’s U17 National Team at the charming Buriram City Stadium on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, as they went down to former champions Korea Republic 0-8 in their opening fixture of the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers Round 2.
But then, it wasn’t the worst of times, either, despite the yawning scoreline. True, Priya PV’s girls found the going tough against the Mighty Koreans, one of the finest teams in the competition. But the few Indian fans present at the stadium could take solace from the fact that the Young Tigresses didn’t go down without a fight – they remained worthy of their names against a bunch of opponents, who displayed lively skills and an uncanny ability to switch flanks without a blink of their eyes.
Korea Republic led 2-0 at the break. While a hat-trick by skipper Won Jueun, who scored two of her goals from spot kicks, was the highlight of the day, Seo Minjeong (2) Park Juha and substitute Han Gukhee were the other scorers. An own goal by Shivani Toppo further widened the margin. Had India not exhibited the vulnerability in their defence in the second session, the story could have been little better.
India Head Coach Priya PV had her plan firmly in place; she stressed more on her defensive strategies for obvious reasons. After defending stoutly for 13 minutes, a momentary lapse in defence cost India dear as they conceded the first goal. Centre back Thoibisana Chanu, who till then showed all the resoluteness to keep the attackers at bay, swung her leg in an attempted clearance that turned out to be a miskick. It was then easy for Park Juha to step onto the edge of the box to find the net with a low shot. Indian goalkeeper Khushi Kumari had no answer to it.
India displayed urgency after being left in the arears and had an opportunity to hit back in the 17th minute when captain and midfielder Menaka Devi played quickly with Sibani Devi on the right, but the resultant aerial ball was too much for Shilji Shaji to go for a proper header.
The gap between the two teams widened in the 28th minute when Sonibia Devi Irom was pulled up for a foul on Won Jueun inside the dreaded area. Jueun herself decided to take the shot that beat Khushi Kumari hands down.
The third goal, which came a couple of minutes after the change of ends, was Won Jueun’s second goal of the day. She made most of a through pass from Beom Yeju to make it 3-0. She completed her hat-trick in the 65th minute, almost immediately after India replaced Khusi Kumari with Khambi Chanu Sarangthem under the bar. Eleven minutes later, substitute Han Gukhee slammed in the fifth to give the scoreline a look of rout.
Not that the Indians never threatened the Korean goal. Their best chance came two minutes before the half time when striker Sulanjana Raul stole the ball on the left, dashed into the box and finding the Korean custodian out of position, took a prompt shot. Woon Sumin saved her citadel at the last moment as she managed to tip the ball over.
India: Khushi Kumari (Khambi Chanu Sarangthem 62’), Vikshit Bara, Thoibisana Chanu Toijam, Sonibia Devi Irom, Shivani Toppo, Sibani Devi Nongmeikapam, Lalita Boypai, Menaka Devi Lourembam, Shilji Shaji, Sulanjana Raul (Heena Khatun 87’) and Pooja (Khushbu Saroj 87’).
–AIFF report and photo