The Melli Baanovaan, who have overcome adversity simply to play football, show the same tenacity in holding India to a 0-0 tie in the Asian Cup opening.
Ghormeh sabzi has been a mainstay of Persian cuisine for over 5,000 years, and is an integral element of the culture that has been passed down through the centuries.
Maryam Irandoost, on the other hand, despises it. She felt so strongly about it that she quit eating one of Iran’s most popular foods. The popular stew was a symbol of racism for her. She told the-afc.com, “I’ve been questioned why a girl should play football; (it’s) better to cook ghormeh sabzi.”
We’ve heard rumours concerning Iranian women’s football. It usually began with their desire to watch a game inside a stadium and concluded with the enormous gates slamming shut in their faces. Then there was the storey of Sahar Khodayari, the ‘Blue Girl,’ which jolted the football world’s collective awareness. Khodayari committed herself in March 2019 after being threatened with jail time for attempting to enter Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch her favourite team play.
In Iran, it is illegal for women to watch the world’s most popular sport in a stadium. And, let’s just say, the journey isn’t always easy for those who dare to play.
Iran’s men’s squad is one of Asia’s best, but its women’s team, which is ranked 70th in the world, has been dogged by controversy. Hijabs have previously been prohibited for Iranian women. They’ve also been accused of “fielding male players dressed as women” twice, once in 2015 and again last year, when the gender of goalkeeper Zohreh Koudaei, whose heroic effort denied India a win, was called into question by Jordan, whom Iran overcame to qualify for their first-ever Asian Cup.
Irandoost, the daughter of former Iranian player and coach Nosrat Irandoost, has made it her life’s mission to promote women’s football and change ‘this perception.’
When the time came on Thursday, Irandoost’s team invoked “the Iranian spirit,” as she put it. The tournament’s lowest-ranked squad, playing under the lights at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium, fought for every second they were on the pitch to scrape out a hard-fought point against hosts India.
Before the match, India’s coach, Thomas Dennerby, stated that Iran would be a “difficult nut” to crack. The Swede had stated that they will put bodies behind the ball and compel India to make all the plays. Dennerby’s assessment of Iran was accurate. Unfortunately for him, his team was unable to locate the answers to the questions they had prepared in advance.
This was also a historic match for India. They were returning to the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence, a time when the women’s game had reached new lows in terms of how it was administered and played across the country.
India, on the other hand, departed the field dejected and wondering what more might have been done to break down a resolute Iran on the continent’s largest platform.
In reality, India should count themselves fortunate to have escaped with a point, because one of the few chances Iran had in the first 15 minutes of the game seemed like it could have been converted. Iran came within a whisker of grabbing the lead on two occasions, both times through striker Negin Zandi. Her one chance, a looping header from a free-kick, struck the crossbar, while another forced India goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan to scramble before soaring agonisingly wide off the upright.
However, once India got their hands on the ball, they were in charge for the rest of the game. India was sharp with their passing, showed great fitness as they ran endlessly, and produced nearly a dozen scoring chances for a side that hadn’t played a significant international game since the 2014 Asian Games.
Manisha Kalyan’s darting dashes were spectacular in the first half; in the midfield, Indumathi Kathiresan and Anju Tamang fed the attackers with pin-point passes for nearly the whole match; and in the second half, Dangmei Grace came close to scoring multiple times but the team failed to score.
India hit the crossbar, came within centimetres of scoring, and were denied once more by an unbelievable save by Koudaei, who drew the ball back from the goal-line and pushed it wide, much to the surprise of the Indian players.
The point, on the other hand, must feel as wonderful as a triumph for Iran. “This was crucial for us,” Irandoost stated following the game. “It was a difficult game, but we were able to demonstrate our Iranian character.”
Dennerby, on the other hand, was dissatisfied, knowing that this was his team’s best chance to win the game. India’s next match is against higher-ranked Chinese Taipei, which they must win to advance to the quarterfinals.
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