The country is set to host the continental extravaganza across January-February.

The AFC Women’s Asian Cup begins on the 20th of January. India will be hosting the prestigious tournament after a gap of 43 years. Two-time runners-up, the Blue Tigresses’ will be playing the AFC Women’s Asian Cup for the ninth time. This Asian football championship also serves as the qualifying tournament for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Indian national team are in a group that includes China PR, Chinese Taipei and Iran. Qualifying from this group would be hugely daunting for the Blue Tigresses. However, ever since the appointment of head coach Thomas Dennerby, the Indian women’s national team played many exposure tournaments that included higher-ranked sides.

The Blue Tigresses held their ground against some of the higher-ranked opponents. They even registered a narrow victory against the Chinese Taipei team. Captain Ashalata Devi and the team have proved themselves worthy opponents of the best teams from the continent.

We look at five names from the Blue Tigresses’ squad that we think would be crucial for India’s chances of making it out of the group.

5. Dalima Chhibber

Dalima Chhibber is the team’s first-choice right-back. She has represented the women’s national team at the U-14, U-16, U-19 levels apart from the senior side. Her debut game for the senior side was against the Maldives in 2016. She has captained India at the U-19 and the senior levels.

Dalima Chhibber plies her trade for the Indian Women’s League side Gokulum Kerala. She joined the Indian side after her two-year stay at the Canadian University side Manitoba Bisons.

The Delhi-born full-back is one of the first names in the starting XI. Chhibber has been influential for the national team on both sides of the pitch. For India to have any chance of making it to the knockout stages, the Blue Tigresses would want Dalima to be at her best against the superior opposition forwards.

4. Aditi Chauhan

Aditi Chauhan
Chauhan recently took part in the AFC Women’s Club Championship with Gokulam Kerala.

Next on our list is the goalkeeper of the Indian national team Aditi Chauhan. Aditi Chauhan is one of the experienced names on the roster. Only two players from the squad have donned the Indian national team jersey more than Aditi.

Aditi is the first woman from the Indian national team to have played competitive football in England. Aditi Chauhan played for West Ham Ladies for three seasons. Two of the three opponents of India in the group stages are better-ranked teams. So, India will have to do a lot of defending and the Blue Tigresses would hope Aditi Chauhan is at her best for them to have any chance of finishing in the top two positions in the group.

3. Loitongbam Ashalata Devi

Loitongbam Ashalata Devi is likely to be the captain of the team. She is not just the best defender from the country, but perhaps from the continent. She was one of the nominees for the AFC Women’s Player of the Year in 2019.

Ashalata Devi has played and won four consecutive SAFF Women’s Championships and has two South Asian Games gold medals while representing India. The 28-year-old Manipuri defender brings a lot of experience to the backline, as she has the most appearances of all the players in the squad. She has represented the country 64 times and has four goals to her name.

Like Aditi, India’s hopes would be on Ashalata Devi to bail them out against the forwards of higher-ranked sides. She has to be at her best and lead the backline throughout the tournament.

2. Indumathi Kathiresan

Indumathi Kathiresan
Indumathi Kathiresan with Brazilian legend Formiga.

India’s midfield has a lot of experience with Indumathi, Kamala Devi and Ratanbala Devi. If not for Ashalata Devi, Indumathi would captain the Indian team in the tournament. Indumathi Kathiresan has been a national team regular since 2014.

At club level, Indumathi Kathiresan plies her trade for Sethu FC. The 27-year-old midfielder can play as a box-to-box midfielder or as a creative outlet. Indumathi can also chip in with goals to help the Indian attack. She was the top scorer of the 2019 edition of the SAFF Women’s Championship.

Indumathi was denied clearance by the Tamil Nadu Police to play football at club level from May 2019 to February 2021. However, the Indian national team couldn’t keep a player like her out of the squad and called her for the preparatory friendly tournaments.

1. Yumnam Kamala Devi

Kamala Devi can play both as a midfielder and a striker. Kamala Devi is the most prolific striker/midfielder of the 23 players chosen to represent the national team at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. She has scored 33 goals for the national team.

Kamala Devi has been a part of four SAFF Women’s Championship-winning sides and two South Asian Games gold medal-winning teams. She was also a part of the team that cleared the first round of the Olympic Qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics, a historic achievement for the women’s football team.

India’s goalscoring hopes rely a lot on Kamala Devi and Grace Dangmei. The former would also share the burden of creating them, along with Indumathi Kathiresan. The Blue Tigresses wouldn’t get a lot of chances and so would hope that Kamala Devi and the other forwards are clinical at finishing.

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