ISLAMABAD: South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women’s Championship found a Japanese connection as Bangladesh registered an impressive 3-1 win over spirited Maldives at the Jinnah Stadium on Monday as both teams had Japanese coaches in the dugouts.
Bangladesh dominated the match from the start with a goal from Maynu Marma in the 18th minute, and skipper Sabina Khatoon soon made it 2-0 in the 35th.
Maldives found a way back into the game in the second half through Aishath Sama in the 81st minute but Sabina sealed the win for Bangladesh six minutes later with her second.
Bangladesh will now face last edition’s finalists Nepal in the semi-finals tomorrow.
According to Indian coach Tarun Roy, whose team thrashed Afghanistan 12-0 in the morning match, Bangladesh are one of the most improved teams in the region.
Sabina, meanwhile, feels that the improvement in the team has come due to coach Tsuki Tate’s arrival in the camp almost two months ago. “I’ve scored five goals in the tournament so far, and the team is doing great,” Sabina told The Express Tribune. “It’s exciting as Tate is very determined and focused and hopefully we can go all the way to the finals.”
Sabina went on to reveal that Tate has his own unique way of coaching. One such oddity is that while managers prefer to show their teams clips of their opponents to prepare them, Tate never lets his team watch another team’s match in the competition.
“We just practice, and we don’t watch other team’s matches; he won’t let us,” said Sabina. “We are here to do our best.”
The 19 year-old, one of five sisters, is motivated by her eldest sibling back home. “I play for my eldest sister. She is a nurse, and loves football. So when I decided to pursue a career in it, she supported me through thick and thin. I play for her, because she can’t, but her love for the game has always inspired me. Now that the team has been winning, I hope she is proud of us.”
However, according to Tate, his team was lucky to emerge as victors. “Maldives played well, and we were lucky to win this match,” he said. “We need to concentrate more for the next one.”
On the other hand, Maldives coach Naoko Kawamto also believed that her team could have played better. “I’m not very satisfied with the performance,” said Naoko as her team bowed out of the competition. “We should’ve won but that’s just football. I think we played well in the second half.”
The Japanese connection between the two teams was not lost on Kawamto either. “I want Bangladesh to win the championship now,” she said. “Their coach is Japanese too, and he has prepared a good team.”
Kawamto shed light on football in Maldives, saying that it is still improving. She added that even in Japan, women’s football was not popular until 2011, so the South Asian region still needs time. “When our women won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011, only then did people start taking interest in the game; till then it wasn’t that popular,” she said.
India continue to look ominous
In the second semi-final, defending champions India will face Sri Lanka. The Indians topped Group A and are undefeated in the competition, further cementing their position as favourites with a 12-0 win over Afghanistan.
Incredibly, only three players Indian players got on the score sheet as Indumati Devi scored three, Permashwari scored four and Baladevi five. The Pakistan women’s team watched on from the stands and cheered on the Indians, which earned them the ire of the Afghan supporters and led to a heated exchange of words.
However, according to Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi, his team was cheering on their neighbours in good spirit. “India struck four goals in the opening few minutes, so our girls began cheering for them, genuinely appreciating their game,” said Lutfi. “However, the Afghan fans got a little offended by that and there was some exchange of words. I sent the team back to their hotel to avoid the incident getting out of hand.”