Odisha FC: The newly-crowned queens of Indian women’s football

NEW DELHI: Odisha FC Women had a dream to chase when the club was formed 20 months ago. And for dreamers, they knew, hard facts are never an obstacle. So, they didn’t let the dream fly away and pursued it with more conviction.

The results are here for everyone to see. Odisha FC, one of the latest additions to the Indian women’s football circuit, have outshined their competitors to clinch the Indian Women’s League (IWL) title in the 2023–24 season.

In the concluding match of the league on March 24, 2024, Odisha FC clinched the title in style with an impressive 6-0 win over Kickstart FC at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. With this victory, they dethroned defending champions Gokulam FC, who were known as the undisputed leaders of Indian women’s football.

Odisha FC Women, formed in 2022, earned the top spot with 31 points from 12 matches, which put them two points ahead of their closest competitors, Gokulam Kerala FC. This title holds immense significance for Odisha FC as it earns them the opportunity to represent India at the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League.

Throughout the season, Odisha displayed remarkable consistency in both attack and defence. They scored 31 goals in 12 matches and conceded only four. India International Pyari Xaxa emerged as the top scorer for the team, and joint second in the league, netting eight goals, while Win Theingi Tun from Myanmar contributed seven goals. Their biggest support in the midfield came from India International and captain Indumathi Kathiresan, who played a pivotal role in the team’s success.

Shreya Hooda, another member of the National Team, and a top contender for the Golden Glove award this season, showcasing her exceptional talent as the number one goalkeeper for Odisha FC. She conceded only four goals throughout the season, securing an impressive nine clean sheets in 12 matches.

“I am so happy to come up with a good performance this season. I want to thank my coaches, support staff, teammates and especially Odisha FC for believing in me. I am grateful to all for this opportunity this season and it all happened because of my team. I want to dedicate this award to my defenders,” Shreya said.

“The numbers (about conceding fewer goals) do matter to me because when I consistently perform well for my club, it gradually impacts my performance in the National Team. Then, handling situations becomes less difficult.” Shreya told the-aiff.com.

While players rightly steal the limelight when the team win matches or bag a title, it is important not to overlook the contribution of the coach. In Odisha FC’s case, it is Crispin Chettri, the head coach, who remained the backbone of the team throughout the season and planned his strategies meticulously.

“Well, it’s a massive achievement for both the club and me. I have been after this trophy for three years,” Chettri said. “I told my players to have self-belief and behave like champions. I had this written in the dressing room permanently,” he added.

We were brilliant throughout the season. Yes, we suffered early in the season because of injuries to Sweety (Devi) and Jasoda (Munda). But the players who replaced them showed desire, character and hunger to excel, and now here we are. The state of Odisha had an overall good year. We won the gold medal in the National Games and now we have won the IWL. I think we have created a path for all players,” Chhetri added.

The Bhubaneswar-based team appointed Crispin Chettri, an A-licenced coach and former India U19 and Mohun Bagan player, as their first head coach for the women’s team. Chettri was the coach of SETHU FC, who finished runners-up in the previous edition of the IWL.

“I think guiding Sethu FC was more challenging than this year because I had young, promising players and I was new to women’s football. So SETHU was a great learning platform. In Odisha FC, I knew about the vision of the owners and we had a project. Though last year we didn’t achieve much, but as a new club, we grew with the passing year. So this year, we had more character in the dressing room.

“I think to be the champions, you need character more than quality, especially in women’s football. We need to create a team bond, having the same objective for all players and staff and making players learn rather than just coaching,” he said.

This year, the Indian Women’s League adopted a new format, the home-and-away structure, spanning over three months. Coach Crispin regards this format as the most beneficial change and said, “I think this is the best way to move forward in women’s football. It gives time for coaches to plan accordingly for each match and also gives players proper recovery time. Most importantly, in this system, players pick up the ability to adapt to different playing conditions quickly. It helps to shape the mentality of players when they go on National team duty.”

Courtesy :- AIFF Media Team.

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