AIFF Media Release
India 3 (Sulanjana Raul 36′, 44′, 88′, hat-trick)
IR Iran 0
BURIRAM, THAILAND: Powered by a Sulanjana Raul hat-trick, the Young Tigresses wrapped up their AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign with a resounding 3-0 win over the Islamic Republic of Iran at the Buriram City Stadium on Saturday, September 23, 2023.
India’s campaign so far has been defined by two heavy losses to oppositions far ahead in their development cycle and ranked higher than the Young Tigresses. What the scorelines did not reflect, though, was the psychological brunt of those defeats. It’s often noted that what separates the elite from the rest is their ability to bounce back from adversity. Based on their performance here today, the Young Tigresses are made of hardened steel with tough psyches, on a growth cycle to be proud of.
Nobody perhaps embodied this spirit more than Sulanjana Raul, the young striker from Bengal. Against Iran, from the first minute to the last, Raul was at the centre of the action and could have had a hat-trick by the end of the first half.
In the first minute, right from kick-off, Raul was released on goal by Lalita Boypai. She rounded the keeper and faced with an empty goal, shot into the side netting. The pattern of play continued, with Sulanjana, her striking partner Sibani Devi and midfielder Shilji Shaji’s dexterity and skill proving too much for the Iran defence to handle.
Raul had the bulk of the chances in the first half hour, but Fatemeh Salelhi proved more than up to the task between the sticks constantly to ensure the scores stayed level.
India finally got their breakthrough in the 36th minute, and ironically, it came in the simplest manner possible: Heena Khatun’s cross from the right was turned in from close range by Sulanjana. With her duck — and the nerves broken — India looked sharper and a minute before the end of halftime, Raul doubled her and the team’s tally. Released by Shilji Shaji’s through ball, Sulanjana chipped the goalkeeper, the ball catching the underside of the bar before slotting in.
The second half was played much to the tune of the first, and if anything, the Blue Tigresses could have been accused of not being clinical enough in front of goal. Sibani, Shilji and Pooja displayed brilliant skill and poise to get into the box, but their lack of finesse let them down. Salehi played her part too, blocking, diving, and making save after save to keep her team in the mix.
Sulanjana completed her hat trick in the 88th minute and displayed the full range of her skills and abilities in doing so. Viksit Bara’s chipped ball found her in midfield, surrounded by three Iran players 30 yards from goal. With her first touch, she turned and then shrugged the defenders off to drive into the box. From a quickly narrowing angle, she shot the ball low and hard to ensure India got their first points in Thailand.
India: Anisha Oraon (GK), Thoibisana Chanu, Heena Khatun, Viksit Bara, Sonibia Devi, Sibani Devi, Lalita Boypai, Menaka Devi (Remi Thokchom, 46’), Shilji Shaji (Cindy Remruatpuii 81’), Sulanjana Raul, Pooja (Anju Chanu Kayenpaibam, 46’) (Babita Kumari, 93’).