PERHAPS, BHAICHUNG Bhutia was talking from personal experience.
In 2011, when India were gearing up for their first men's Asian Cup appearance after more than three decades, the former captain watched from the sidelines as he recuperated from an injury. Bhutia, the country's highest goal-scorer and a highly influential player in the dressing room, ultimately played for just a handful of minutes in the final group-stage match but his experience was sorely missed as India bowed out without making an impact.
Now, as the women's team returns to the continental stage after nearly 20 years, they find themselves in a similar predicament. India are without their star striker and the focal point of their attack, Ngangom Bala Devi, the country's all-time top scorer with 52 goals in 58 appearances.
Without the former Glasgow Rangers forward, India lacked sharpness in attack as they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Iran in their Asian Cup opener on Thursday. It was a dominant performance and India created 24 scoring opportunities, three times more than Iran. But only five of those were on target and none were good enough to find the back of the net.
"Maybe, looking back, the experience of a Bala Devi up front may have been handy, Bhutia was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation. “But injuries are part and parcel of football, and I am confident the others will fill in the void."
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