The Indian national women’s team is set to embark on a momentous milestone with the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in sight.
India qualified for the final round of the tournament as hosts and will be featuring in the group stage of the competition for the first time since 2003. We take a look at the history of the Women’s Asian Cup and how India fared through the years.
The inaugural tournament was held in 1975 in Hong Kong, with just six teams featuring. New Zealand went on to win their first and only title so far after a 3-1 win over Thailand. The 2022 edition will be the 20th Women's Asian Cup and the second to be held in India. China have been the most successful side in the competition, boasting eight titles, seven of which arrived in a row between 1986 and 1993.
Japan are the defending champions of the competition after they beat Australia 1-0 in 2018 when it was held in Jordan.
India participated in the competition for the first time in 1979, with Calicut (Kozhikode) hosting the six-team tournament. The matches were of 60-minute duration. The country had representation from two teams - India S and India N.
The latter finished last in the group stage with just one win in five games but India S managed three wins and qualified for the semi-final after finishing behind only Chinese Taipei in the Group Stage.
India S drew Hong Kong in the semis and stormed to the finals with a comfortable 3-1 win. However, favourites Chinese Taipei were 2-0 winners in the summit clash as India S settled for a runners-up finish.
The 1981 Hong Kong edition saw the number of teams in the final round rise from six to eight. Two groups containing four teams were hence created, with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the semi-final.
India finished on top of Group A with two wins and a draw in three games. The wins included an 8-0 thrashing of Philippines with Shukla Nag scoring four goals. The incredible goal-difference of +13 allowed them to finish on top despite being level on points with Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, their campaign came to an end in the following round after a 1-0 defeat to Thailand. But a 2-0 win over Hong Kong with goals from Shukla Dutta and Socorina Pereira in the third-place match ensured India stood on the podium after claiming the third place. Meanwhile, Chinese Taipei defended the title with a 5-0 thumping of Thailand in the final.
The 1983 edition of the Women’s Asian Cup witnessed a change in format due to Taiwan and Japan withdrawing from the competition. The six teams – Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, Thailand (hosts), and the Philippines then participated in a single round-robin tournament, with the top two teams qualifying for the finals.
India impressed with four wins and just one defeat in the five games, hence finishing behind only Thailand, who won all their games. The hosts then defeated India 3-0 in the final to claim their first title. India had to settle for a runners-up finish yet again, like in the 1979 edition.
This was the golden period for Indian women in Asia. In just three years, they managed two silver medals and a bronze in the continental tournament. This was also the last time they managed to make it past the group stage of the competition.
After an absence of over 12 years, India featured in the 1995 edition of the Women’s Asian Cup that was hosted by Malaysia. They were grouped alongside Japan, South Korea and Uzbekistan in the first round. A sub-par show saw the women return with zero points from the Group Stage.
India came back stronger in the following edition (1997), finishing second in the Group Stage behind Japan. This campaign also included an emphatic 10-0 win over Guam and a 3-0 win over Hong Kong. But only one team from the group qualified for the knockouts and a 1-0 defeat against group leaders Japan meant that India’s campaign concluded in the Group Stage. Hosts China defended the title after conceding just one goal in the entire tournament.
The 1999 and 2001 editions held in the Philippines and Chinese Taipei respectively were not kind to India. The women could manage a fourth-place finish in the Group Stage of both tournaments, with only Malaysia below them on both occasions. They hence failed to make it to the knockouts on both occasions.
The Women’s Asian Cup 2003 was hosted by Thailand, with 14 teams participating in the Group Stages. India finished third in Group C with just one win in three games and were hence eliminated. China qualified from the group and went on to bag the silver medal as North Korea defended the title.
A separate qualifying tournament was held from the subsequent tournaments, starting from 2006. India could not feature in the final round of the tournament ever since.
When the women take the field in 2022, they will have a chance to go past the group stage for the first time in 39 years.