A good beginning is half done. If this old saying is anything to go by, then the four nations who participated in the Four Nations Cup that concluded yesterday in Saudi Arabia – namely Pakistan, Comoros, Mauritius and the hosts – are on track, after showcasing their progress in their first international appearance of 2023.
The tournament, staged at Khobar in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 11 to 19 January ended with the hosts winning the title with two wins and a draw. Pakistan finished as runners-up with a win and a draw, while both Comoros and Mauritius also registered a victory apiece.
Hopeful return of Pakistan
The women’s game has a relatively short history in the South Asian country with their national team formed in 2010. After years of rapid development, an eight-year hiatus saw progress stall. Since June 2022, however, the women’s game has been re-ignited across the country. The PFF wasted no time in re-organising their national team, sending them to last September’s SAFF Women’s Championship before they traveled to Saudi Arabia at the start of this year. For Head Coach Adeel Rizki, their impressive showings upon a return to international football came as a timely boost.
“Our idea is to compete in every competition available to us, through which we can give our players global exposure,” he told FIFA.com. “We want to involve young players in order for us to develop a team for the future. Most importantly we are focusing on building a team identity and a playing style. This is a process which takes time. We are confident that we are on the right track.”
Furthermore, there is more good news with Pakistan’s first-ever women’s national league in the making, courtesy of FIFA’s support. “[Before] there was only the national women’s championship which was held for a very short period once a year,” Rizki continued. “Now we are working closely with FIFA to launch the women’s league, which could be the game changer for women’s football in Pakistan.”
With a population of over 242 million, Pakistan is the world’s fifth most populous country. The potential for the women’s game is therefore huge. Malika-e-Noor, Pakistan vice-captain, shared her views with FIFA.com. “Since I started playing football, I have seen a huge difference in the development of women’s sports in Pakistan,” said the 28-year-old defender. “It is not only in football but also in other sports. Talking about football, now we have different clubs and academies working on developing the game at the grassroots levels. “Our recent performances helped restore the place of women’s game in the fans’ hearts. Those who said football had no future before are now standing behind us and supporting us. They are willing to let their daughters, sisters and wives to play the game to represent our country at international level. Our federation is consistently investing in women’s football, and I am really hopeful that one day we will play in an Olympic tournament and at a FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
Fresh dawns for trio
For hosts Saudi Arabia, winning the Four-Nation Cup marked another success under German coach Monika Staab, having prevailed in a three-nation tournament in the Maldives last February. “Saudi Arabia is a football-mad nation, so winning the title is nothing but amazing for the team and the nation alike,” the former midfielder told FIFA.com. “Women’s football in Saudi Arabia is undergoing a unique transformation. In just three years, there are now four regional training centres for 6-17-year-old girls, 25 clubs, 520 registered players, two national teams, over 1,000 coaches with different licenses, and almost 50,000 girls in the schools league. This list is still growing.”
Echoing Staab’s optimism for the future is Comoros Head Coach Choudjay Mahandhi, who also voiced his confidence. “Women’s football has made big progress in Comoros in recent years. We came to participate in this tournament to rub shoulders with these teams. Our players have proved more than capable of competing against rivals at this international level.”
Mauritius Head Coach Kersley Levrai is equally looking to the future with high hopes. “Playing in such international competitions will help our players better understand the areas where they need to improve” he said. “Our performances have reflected the fast development of the women’s game in our country. In recent years, youth leagues as well as more national competitions have been launched and our aim is to increase the number of female players by 10% in Mauritius by 2026,” he concluded.