India's abrupt exit from AFC Women's Asian Cup causes heartbreak and raises questions about future

After two years of anticipation and preparation which saw them travel across the world and playing friendlies against the likes of Brazil, all of it seems to have come to nothing.

Published: 25th January 2022 12:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th January 2022 12:39 AM   |  A+A-

Indian Women's football team during practice ahead of their first game against Iran in the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup

Indian Women's football team during practice session (Photo | Twitter, @IndianFootball)

Express News Service

KOCHI: In two words, India's goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan summed up the sentiment of the women's national team.

"Absolutely devastated," she tweeted after India's game against Chinese Taipei was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in the Indian team camp.

What it also meant was that India's campaign in the AFC Women's Asian Cup had come to an abrupt end with AFC officially announcing it on Monday.

"Following the cancellation of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 Group A match between Chinese Taipei and India, which was scheduled to take place at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on January 23, India is considered to have withdrawn from the competition in accordance with Article 4.1 of the ‘Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic’," the AFC stated.

It drew an equally emotional response from defender Dalima Chhibber. "Speechless, heartbroken and sad," was the tweet from Chhibber after AFC's verdict.

After two years of anticipation and preparation which saw them travel across the world and playing friendlies against the likes of Brazil, all of it seems to have come to nothing.

The players were also involved in a six-month preparatory camp in Jamshedpur as they were preparing for their big moment. Head coach Thomas Dennerby had even suggested that the team could reach the quarterfinal as expectations were high.

"This would have been like a World Cup for these girls. It was supposed to be the biggest moment of their lives and they had sacrificed so much for it by being away from home and putting training so hard. It is extremely sad that it ended this way but we need to ensure that this group of players have something to look forward to," said a former women's national team captain.

"All matches of India are now cancelled and considered null and void pursuant to Article 6.5.5 of the Competition Regulations," further read the AFC statement which means India's representation in the competition has been chalked off.

Former Indian women's team coach Maymol Rocky who had worked closely with the team in the lead up to the tournament said that this was not the end of the road for the players.

"We can't really blame anyone for what happened, but I can imagine how demoralised the girls will be. But it is not the end of the world as there will be more tournaments to look forward to in the future. The girls should realise that it is not their fault and everyone around will support them. It was a big opportunity but no one could have predicted this," said Maymol.

The rest of the tournament is going ahead as per the schedule, and after India's exit, China, Chinese Taipei and Iran will compete against each other for qualification from Group A.

"To avoid any possible disparity in the final comparison between all third-placed teams, the results of the matches in Group B and C between the first, second and third-placed teams against the fourth-placed teams will not be counted," said AFC.

It has been a challenge to host sporting events amidst the Covid-19 pandemic with bio-bubbles getting breached. The Indian Super League, I-League, U-19 Cricket World Cup, India Open and even the last edition of the IPL had witnessed Covid outbreaks inside bio-bubbles.

The challenge for AIFF is to successfully complete the Asian Cup while ensuring such a crisis does not arise for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup which is set to be held in India in October.

"Let's hope the situation improves by then and we can see our players compete at the big stage and against top teams," added Maymol.

All eyes will now be on the AIFF after president Praful Patel had suggested that the players will be provided with all the support they need.

“Our support for the Blue Tigresses will continue, and we will work to ensure that our players come back stronger," Patel wrote on Twitter. 


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