The SAFF Women’s Championship Round Up20 Sep, 2022
The 6th SAFF (South Asia Football Federation) Women’s Championship has recently completed in Kathmandu, Nepal. This cup was competed between the women’s teams of Pakistan 🇵🇰 Nepal 🇳🇵 India 🇮🇳 Bangladesh 🇧🇩 Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 & Bhutan 🇧🇹
The competition was last played in 2019 in Nepal, in which India won (for the fifth time) against the hosts…. This year Bangladesh came out on top against Nepal but that doesn’t tell the whole story – here are my top observations.
India crashing out…
At 58 in FIFA’s rankings, India is the highest ranked Country within the SAFF federation. Nepal are the next highest at 102,but India lost to Nepal 1-0 in the Semi-Finals and exited the tournament. India lost 3-0 to Bangladesh in the final group game – losing the last group game is not an issue per say, however that was India’s first loss in 26 games (24 win’s and 1 draw before this) and this was capped off with the subsequent failure in the semi-final to Nepal. Having dominated the competition and being significantly the highest ranked team in the region it will surely cause some inward looking and reviewing of the way forward for the Country.
This was Pakistan’s first appearance in the competition & first game since 2014, and as such was significant for them. Their absence and the reason for them not being currently ranked in the FIFA Rankings is due to the Pakistan Football Federationbeing suspended due to 3rd party interference.
Pakistan gave India a good challenge in the opening game,only losing 3-0 to India, but then lost heavily to Bangladesh (6-0) in the second game, before recording their first win against the Maldives (7-0). This was also important for Nadia Khan (who plays for Doncaster Belles in the FA Women’s National League), as she became the first Pakistani women’s player to score a hat trick (and in fact she scored 4 goals in the game).
Unfortunately, it’s not all been lovely off the pitch, with people challenging why the players are playing in shorts (or playing in general) and this “peaked” with being questioned at the congratulatory press conference. Hopefully, this is just a minority view trying to distract as the performances deserved further investment in the growth of the women’s game. It is hoped this competition will encourage further games in the November international break.
Nepal finished second in 4 of the last 5 tournaments, with the 2016 competition being the only one they didn’t finish secondwhen they lost in the semi-finals to host’s India. With this tournament again they fell short at the final hurdle, but whilst it was a 3-1 defeat, they pushed Bangladesh all the way and the women are a credit to their Country.
Whilst attendance figures were only around 2,000-2,500 fans for the group stages, in the semi-final over 8,200 attended and 15,730 attended the final (a sell out) – it is clear that women’s football is popular in Nepal. In fact, the Dasharath Rangasala Stadium has a 15,000 capacity and fortunately there were no issues over the overcrowding of the stadium.
Are a young team that have been developed over the last few years – in fact there is only one player over 21 years old and that is 28-year-old Sabina Khatun (Striker and Captain). Whilst most teams would raise eyebrows at the number of young players (you never win anything with kids etc etc), it should be noted that this squad have been together for several years. In fact, most of the squad were at the 2021 U-19 SAFF Women’s Championship which they won. It is an interesting fact that the village of Kalsindur is the Bangladesh equivalent of Sunderland with 7 of the 23–player squad coming from there. This success and development of players can be traced back to an investment by the Bangladesh Government in 2010.
The 2010 investment by Prime Minister Hasina has built the structure and this team is the product of it. As the players have developed and with limited “Senior players” in the squad, these players have progressed up the age structure as they grow older meaning they know each other well and have developed as a close-knit team. This investment is set tocontinue, paying dividends with this year’s victory at the SAFF Women’s Championship.
Photo – Bangladesh Football Federation