New Delhi: Sreebhumi FC, the team representing West Bengal at the Indian Women's League 2019-20, bowed out from the group stage in Bengaluru after finishing fourth with five points from five games in Group B. Gokulam Kerala FC, Kenkre FC, Odisha Police, Bangalore United Football Club and Bidesh XI Sports Club were the other teams in the group.
While Gokulam and Kenkre qualified for the semi-finals, Sreebhumi FC, who were largely unknown as participants before the tournament, won plaudits for their fighting spirit and especially their grit in holding Gokulam to just one goal in their tournament opener.
Sreebhumi FC were last minute additions to the IWL after last year's semi-finalists SSB Central Women's FC backed out and got less than 10 days to prepare for the tournament. Given the minimal time frame, coach Barun Sengupta told News18.com he didn't get enough time to prepare the team or collect the players.
Sreebhumi FC's squad of 20 were made up of players from West Bengal and Haryana and 15 of those players were 17 years of age or under.
None of the Sreebhumi players were carded in the five games they played and the team kept two clean sheets - against Bidesh and BUFC. Sreebhumi scored four goals - Poonam and Ruti Devi against Bidesh, Aarti vs Kenkre and Poonam against Odisha FC, and conceded five.
"With the club also participating in the ongoing Kolkata Women's League, we have some local players and we got some Haryana players. All of them couldn't practice together beforehand and got only an hour of practice for a couple of days in Bengaluru ahead of the final round," Sengupta told News18.com.
Sengupta also mentioned that he did not get enough time to set any style of play for his team and his assistant Dola Mukherjee said, "The players adopted whatever we taught them in the little time we had and were able to execute about 80 per cent on the field. A kid cannot be taught in two days and expected to execute it 100 per cent. But all our players tried very hard and did well."
THE CLUB SREEBHUMI FC
The club is active round the year and Mukherjee runs a residential camp with the club, where kids from all over West Bengal come and they take care of their education and food and training. They are based in the Chandan Nagar area of Hoogly district.
Mukherjee said that the club had aimed at providing their local and outstation youngsters with the experience and level of football at the IWL.
"If you look at other teams, they have matured players but with the U-17 World Cup coming up, we wanted to expose our kids to good football," Mukherjee elaborated.
THE BIG GOKULAM GAME
Sreebhumi FC started their IWL campaign in an impressive manner when they lost to Gokulam Kerala FC by a mere margin of one goal. The remarkability of that performance can be judged by the fact that Gokulam scored 27 goals in their next four group matches.
Sreebhumi deployed the 'Park the Bus' strategy against Gokulam considering the firepower in that attacking line-up, which includes the tournament's current top scorer Sabitra Bhandari (16 goals). Coach Sengupta also believes that his team should have drawn that game and it was one mistake that led to the goal that eventually lost them the match.
"Before the match, I told my players that we have to win. My strategy was defence and I went with a 4-2-3-1 formation and we should have actually drawn that game. But my players executed whatever I had advised them to. They wanted to show themselves on this big platform as India selection happens from here. I told them if they play well, next year they could be called by another club since this is a professional platform," Sengupta explained.
After the match, Sengupta shared, he asked his players to not be too excited as it was just the start of the tournament and that the semi-finals were far away. In the dressing room after the match, he asked his players to stay focussed and concentrate on the next game if they wanted to hold on to that good showing.
Mukherjee elaborated that despite the result against Gokulam, they never thought that they could walk into the semi-finals as each team was going to be tough.
"We can never guarantee the consistency of the performances. We planned according to that and some things worked and some didn't. We came with the team in just about a week's time and we couldn't have put the kids under pressure," Mukherjee stated.
Sengupta feels that his talk of staying concentrated on each match yielded results in their second game against Bidesh XI, where they scored two goals. However, the confusion from their Haryana players cost them later.
"Where we got the Haryana players from, they put the players under pressure to listen to their strategy. Now these are young kids, they got confused as to who to listen to - their coaches in Haryana or us. They came to play with us but couldn't be there mentally and physically but I would still say they tried their best and did well," Mukherjee elaborated.
IWL JOURNEY AT A GLANCE
Sreebhumi goalkeeper Rumpa Malik was their best player of the campaign as her saves time and again helped the team win matches or stay alive in a couple of them. Rumpa was not only assured between the sticks and was a good shot-stopper, she also showed the skills to come off her line and clear the ball. Mukherjee said that she hoped that Rumpa would at least get the call-up to the national camp based on her showing.
Mukherjee further said that she and Sengupta had devised a basic strategy based on the team's strength, which was to keep a tight defensive line and then go on attack according to the opponents they were facing.
"We played all defence against Gokulam but played 50-50 against Bidesh. Against BUFC we drew because it was also difficult for the kids to keep adapting to different strategies in such a short span of time. Against Kenkre, all the three goals came from mistakes, we tried to attack but it just didn't happen. Against Odisha Police, we could have scored at least 7 goals but missed a lot of chances and drew the game," Mukherjee recalled.
Here are all of Sreebhumi's results:
Match 1: Gokulam Kerala FC 1-0 Sreebhumi FC (Sabitra 67')
Match 2: Bidesh XI SC 0-2 Sreebhumi FC (Poonam 24', Ritu Devi 62')
Match 3: Bangalore United FC 0-0 Sreebhumi FC
Match 4: Sreebhumi FC 1-3 Kenkre FC (Aarti 33'; Soumya Guguloth 5' and 18', Asha Kumari 47')
Match 5: Odisha Police 1-1 Sreebhumi FC (Tikina Samal 26'; Poonam 79')