Women’s football faces uphill battle at university championships

5 Nov 2018

By Megan-Nicole Lye

The team during their last debrief, before departing to Jinjiang, China for the university championships.

NTU women’s football team has headed overseas for the first time to compete in the Asian University Football Championship (AUFC) held in Jinjiang, China from 29 Oct to 11 Nov.

But the squad was forced to compete with 15 players instead of a full 18-member squad as some members of the team were unable to commit to the tournament.

Coach Mohammad Herman Zailani, 38, said he was left with the “bare minimum of players”, with only four substitutes instead of the usual seven.

“The competition is two weeks long and with only 15 players, I really hope that my girls do not get injured,” he said.

Training despite the tides

The lack of players was in part due to a rule imposed by International University Sports Federation (FISU), which prevents athletes aged 25 and older from registering for the competition.

Wu Yuan Yuan, 28, a substitute striker and a graduate student from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), is one of the three players ineligible to compete.

“I felt frustrated. This was my best chance to play in an international high-level competition,” said Wu, who competed in the Singapore University Games (SUniG) with the team.

Despite emerging champions in SUniG last month, the team are the underdogs in the AUFC who will face powerhouses such as China and Mongolia. Mr Herman described preparations as an “uphill battle”.

“They have to focus more on defending and counter-attacking, and cannot expect to have the ball all the time,” Mr Herman said.

Some students from the National Institute of Education were also unable to participate due to commitments in school.

To compensate for the shortage of players, some were asked to take on new positions.

For example, captain Nur Syafiqah Peer, 22, a centre-back, is now the team’s goalkeeper.

Since there is not enough time for the team to completely adapt to their new positions, Syafiqah, a third-year CEE student, believes it is even more crucial for the players to communicate on the pitch.

“We have to focus on the ball and the game, and not the new position we are playing. In the case that someone is out of position, another player has to cover for her,” she said. “We are structured such that there will not be empty spaces. We are helping each other out this way.”

Despite the hurdles they have had to overcome, the players were excited for the competition.

“Tactically and fitness-wise, our competitors are much better than us, so we have to be disciplined in our training,” said Fatin Aqillah Mohamed Ridzwan, 24, a final-year Sports Science and Management student. “I’m excited to see how we can play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The National University of Singapore has also sent their team to compete, but both teams will only face each other if they make it to the semi-finals. The winning team of AUFC will qualify for next year’s FISU World University Cup.

Regardless of the results, Syafiqah hopes her teammates will enjoy themselves and grow with the experience of playing at an international level.

“I’m loving the resilient team spirit. The girls don’t really care about the score. We play for the love of football,” she said.

Fatin added that this experience can be passed down to their juniors in the future.

“What’s important is the learning experience,” she said. “Most of the team are first and second-year students, so I hope they can share whatever they have learned, the good and the bad, with future generations of the team.”