They hit the crossbar, forced a stunner of a save from the goalkeeper, worked the flanks and put breathtaking low crosses for their strikers. India did everything but what counts – score a goal in their opening match of the Women's AFC Asian Cup against Iran at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on Thursday.
The goalless draw means that India got themselves just a point which puts them in a precarious position in their quest of qualifying for the quarterfinal.
India knew Iran were a defensive team, with coach Thomas Dennerby saying as much ahead of this match. Their task was to break down their defence. India did so on multiple occasions, but then there was Iran’s star of the match, their goalkeeper Zohreh Koudaei. Iran had qualified for this tournament after a 4-2 shoot-out win over Jordan back in September and Koudaei was the reason they made it.
The 32-year-old pulled out a wonder save to deny striker Grace Dangmei’s open header in the 77th minute which could’ve possibly been the difference between the two sides.
India, hosting this major continental tournament for only the second time, were counting on a win against this lower-ranked Iran team who are also playing this competition for the first time. Perhaps it was the nerves, playing as hosts that took them a good half an hour to settle in, but once they found their rhythm, they gave the Iranians a very tough time.
Iran, known to be a defensive team, shocked India with their fiery runs up front in the opening period of the game. Their lanky striker Negin Zandi was particularly impressive throughout with her pace really troubling the Indian defence. Zandi also had one of the better chances for Iran when a misguided headed clearance fell to her feet in the 19th minute. Fortunately for India, her shot went just at the side of the crossbar.
All eyes were on Manisha Kalyan, who scored India’s only goal against an experienced Brazil team in a friendly recently, but while she did show sparks of brilliance, making dashing runs on the left flank and sending in troubling crosses, India just weren’t able to break the deadlock.
While India did show what they were capable of in the later stages of the first half, they really turned on the pressure a few notches higher after the break.
When Grace Dangmei came on in the 55th minute, India, who lacked the firepower in the opponent's box, suddenly looked threatening.
Indumathi Kathiresan who is a livewire in the midfield also had a wonderful chance to put India ahead when she found herself wide of the Iran goal, with just the goalkeeper to beat and Pyari Xaxa waiting open in the centre. She however decided to go for goal, but only to find the side netting.
India will look to work on their midfield if they are to come back with any points against Chinese Taipei in their next game on Friday.
While Chinese Taipei were beaten 4-0 by eight-time tournament champions China in the opening match, they looked quite composed in midfield, something India lacked against Iran.
India will also be vary of their counterattacks, something that quite troubled China to an extent.