Buriram (Thailand): Powered by a Sulanjana Raul hat-trick, India wrapped up its 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.
Hailing from District East Midnapore, the West Bengalian girl had a huge day on Saturday as her three goals gave India a victory and three points to round out the season. Sulanjana, though, made it apparent she was not strolling in the sunshine shortly after the game was finished.
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 center of the action and could have had a hat-trick by the end of the first half.
Talking to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Raul stated, “I am feeling great and happy to have scored a hat-trick. But overall, I am not satisfied with my performance. “I could have done much better. I had lots of chances and could have scored more.”
Surely, Sulanjana was honest with his answers, as she could have scored a couple of goals in the first half itself. But Sulanjana knows that not every opportunity in football gets converted into goals. So, she waited for the next and made good use of them.
No doubt, Sulanjana aims for the stars; she is ambitious and follows a dream. A dream that she shares with her father. In a recent interview, she said that her father always wanted her to be a footballer and she pursued it diligently since childhood. No wonder, when asked to whom she would like to dedicate her hat-trick, Sulanjana replied promptly, “To my father.”
Of the three goals, Sulanjana said, her third strike minute before the final whistle was the toughest and left her feeling good. She was well-marked in the rival box, as there were three defenders. But she managed to outwit all and set a shot for which the Iranian goalkeeper had no answer. “The third goal was the toughest. The way I took the inside touch and then sent it in, it just felt so good,” said Sulanjana, like a true perfectionist.
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.
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.
As the Indian team trooped out after a satisfying victory, head coach Priya PV was waiting to greet her wards. She hugged her hat-trick girl tight and Sulanjana flashed a smile—a smile with the honesty of an innocent greenhorn. After 90 minutes of hard skirmish on the pitch, she let her true self out. Sulanjana is still a kid.