India defeated Thailand 41-18 in their last league match to win gold at the 16th Asian Women’s Junior Handball Championship in Almaty (Kazakhstan) on Monday. The result also earned them a qualification for the Women’s Junior World Handball Championship, scheduled to be held in Slovenia from June 22 to July 3.
India ended the competition with six points in the five-team competition. Iran and hosts Kazakhstan, too, finished with six points each, but the goal difference pushed them to the second and third spots, respectively.
Iran, by virtue of their second-place finish, will also travel to Slovenia. Uzbekistan (2 points) and Thailand (0 points) finished fourth and fifth.
Led by Priyanka Thakur, India dominated the proceedings from the word go and took a comfortable 20-9 lead at the break. “Once we took an 11-point lead, we were sure of winning the last game,” said captain Thakur, who scored nine goals and became the best right winger of the Championship.
After beating Uzbekistan 32-31 in a thriller in their opening league match, India lost to Iran 37-42 in the second game. But they came up with a superb performance against Kazakhstan (29-21) in the penultimate league match, before beating Thailand.
“After losing to Iran in the second game, the morale was a bit down as we could have won that match. But the win against Kazakhstan lifted our spirits. We didn’t allow the Thai girls a free hand and attacked from the onset,” said Thakur.
“It’s a dream come true for us. A fortnight ago, before the start of the Championship, we weren’t sure of our participation due to some technical issues,” she added.
Lanky striker Jassi scored the most goals — 11 — for the team on Monday. Bhavana and Monika scored eight and seven times, while Sanjana (3), Gaurav and Priyanka (1 goal each) also found their names on the score sheet.
India’s Chetna Sharma was named best goalkeeper. Bhavana Sharma was adjudged the Player of the Tournament as well as the best center back.
Coach Sachin praised the team’s overall showing in the tournament. “We played like a cohesive unit and everyone played their part nicely. Girls played an attacking game. Our defense was spot-on, and Chetna was superb under the bar.”
“The never-say-die attitude of the girls, even after losing the match against Iran, kept us going. It’s just the beginning of a good time for handball in India. We will keep working on all aspects of the game. We want to make a podium finish at the World Championship,” added Sachin, who has represented India at the Asian Games twice.
Before Monday, India could never win a medal at the Asian Championships in any category. Handball itself got official recognition in the country in 1972, which makes this win the biggest result for the Handball Federation of India, coming exactly 50 years after its inception.
The men’s team had achieved their best, an eighth-place finish, at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. Thirty-two years later, the women secured the eighth position at the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea.
India’s resurgence in handball began in 2006 when the men’s team traveled to Qatar for their first Asian Games in 24 years. Both Indian men’s and women’s teams won international medals at the South Asian Games. The men bagged gold in the 2016 South Asian Games in India, while the women claimed a gold medal at the 2019 Games in Nepal.