NEW DELHI: After the excitement of a major international multisport event like the Asian Games, earlier this year, the National Games have gotten underway in Goa on October 25, 2023.
The 37th National Games is a rather special one for the fans of Indian Football; much of the excitement for the football fans in the 37th edition of the Games, comes from the fact that beach soccer is being newly introduced to the long list of sports. However, the National Games has been hosting regular football since 1985 (1999 for women’s football).
We kick things off at the National Games with the Women’s Football event, which begins on October 27 and will see the seven best teams from last season’s Senior Women’s National Football Championships, along with hosts Goa pitted against each other, as they fight for gold, silver and bronze.
The eight teams have been divided into two groups of four each, with the states set to play each other in a round-robin format, before the top two states from each group make it to the semi-finals.
A tough battle in Group A
Group A in the women’s tournament promises to be a rather tight affair, as it contains five-time National Games gold medallists Manipur, twice silver medallists West Bengal, reigning champions of the Senior Women’s National Football Championships Tamil Nadu, and Jharkhand, a state that has in recent years, produced some extremely talented women footballers who have gone on to represent India at the senior and junior levels.
Expectations will be high on Manipur, especially since Tamil Nadu, who have produced some significant performances in the Senior NFCs in recent years, will be void of their core players – Indumathi Kathiresan, Sandhiya Ranganathan, and Sowmiya Narayanasamy – who are currently with the Indian squad that is set to participate in the Women’s Olympic qualifiers. Midfielder Karthika Angamuthu will be the key figure pulling the strings from the heart of the Tamil Nadu side, as she is not with the national team now.
Manipur seem to have the strongest side on paper, with a range of players with international experience, both at the senior and the junior levels. The likes of goalkeeper Linthoingambi Maibam, and Prameshwori Irom will take up the leadership mantle, in the absence of Ashalata Devi, Bala Devi, Dangmei Grace, and Sweety Devi.
Jharkhand could well turn out to be the dark horses of the tournament, as they have a young and talented squad, that has some fast wingers like Nitu Linda and Anita Kumari, both of whom have represented India at the junior levels. Centreback Purnima Kumari is also one to watch out for, with her calm demeanour at the heart of the defence.
Like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal will also miss the services of their ace midfielder Sangita Basfore, who is currently on international duty with the Blue Tigresses. Playmaker Anibala Devi and striker Devneta Roy will have the majority of the responsibilities to roll things in motion for them.
Haryana, Odisha expected to lead the way in Group B
Group B, on the other hand, have two-time gold medallists Odisha, 2015 bronze medallists Haryana, along with Chandigarh and hosts Goa, all four being states where women’s football has been on the rise in the last decade.
Haryana, the runners-up of the 2022-23 Senior Women’s NFC, will look to dominate their opponents with their speed on the wings and physical presence in the centre. They have a number of players who have experienced junior international football, like Varsha Shailja, Varshika, Tannu, Santosh, and many more. While seniors like goalkeeper Shreya Hooda, fullback Sanju, and centreback Ritu Rani are on India duty at the moment, they have so far been registered in the squad, and are likely to join before the semi-finals.
Odisha have arguably the strongest squad on paper in Group B, despite the absence of stalwarts like striker Pyari Xaxa and centreback Manisa Passa. Jabamani Tudu, who has had her fair share of international experience, will be the key in defence, and can double up as a holding midfielder as well, while the playmaking responsibilities will be taken up by Grace Lalrampari. Former India U-17 striker Lynda Kom Serto is likely to lead the lines, and her cunning footwork inside the box could well make the difference for them.
Chandigarh and Goa have comparatively inexperienced squads, though the hosts can count on their striker Karishma Shirvoikar, who is a regular in the Indian Women’s League, and has been a part of the national team in the past.
National Games Goa 2023, Women’s Football Fixtures:
October 27: Manipur vs Jharkhand, 9 am
October 27: Tamil Nadu vs West Bengal, 4 pm
October 28: Odisha vs Chandigarh, 9 am
October 28: Haryana vs Goa, 4 pm
October 29: Jharkhand vs Tamil Nadu, 9 am
October 29: West Bengal vs Manipur, 4 pm
October 30: Chandigarh vs Haryana, 9 am
October 30: Goa vs Odisha, 4 pm
October 31: West Bengal vs Jharkhand, 9 am
October 31: Manipur vs Tamil Nadu, 4 pm
November 1: Goa vs Chandigarh, 9 am
November 1: Odisha vs Haryana, 4 pm
November 3, Semifinal 1: Winners, Group A vs Runners-up, Group B
November 3, Semifinal 2: Winners, Group B vs Runners-up, Group A
November 5, 3rd Place Match: Losers, Semifinal 1 vs Losers, Semifinal 2
November 5, Final: Winners, Semifinal 1 vs Winners, Semifinal 2