India scored a 3-1 victory over Iran in the first leg of the AFC Women's Asia Cup qualifier in Gurgaon on Saturday.
The visitors took a shock lead as early as the eighth minute through Fereshteh Karimi but goals from Oinam Bembem Devi (14th), Bala Devi Ngangom (28th) and Lalvarmoi Hmar (78th) settled the matter in the home team's favour at the Devi Lal Sports Complex and gave them an advantage ahead of the Tehran outing next week.
Despite the result, the Iranian girls can hold their heads high as they showed plenty of skill and pace for a nascent team which is still not listed in the FIFA rankings.
They received vociferous support from a large band of Iranian supporters, mostly women, who made it to the venue to cheer their team. They included staff from their embassy in New Delhi as well as students from the Jawaharlal Nehru and Jamia Millia Islamia universities.
The decibel levels they generated made it seem that the Iranians -- who were playing in full sleeve jerseys, trousers and scarves -- had a home match.
They went ahead when Karimi capitalised on a defensive lapse and used her strength to get into the box and beat custodian Ronibala Chanu from close range.
The home team was not expecting such a start but soon recovered to get on level terms.
Bembem Devi received a pass from the left flank and her left-footer from the edge of the box found the top corner.
The match had a nice ebb and flow to it with the hosts getting ahead before the half hour mark when a corner from the right flag taken by Sasmita Mallik found the head of an unmarked Bala Devi who made no mistake.
Conceding the lead did not dampen the Iranians' spirit and they continued to pose danger to the Indian goal. Karimi and forward Bayan Mahmoudi were the players who particularly caught the eye.
At the other end, Bembem went close again in the 38th minute when her shot from inside the box went just wide.
After the break, Romi Devi Ashem had to make a last ditch block to deny Mahmoudi who had got into a goal-scoring position.
The taller Iranians were using their superior build and strength to good effect.
They were unlucky in the 63rd minute when a close range shot from Karimi came back off the underside of the bar.
Hmar settled the nerves on the hosts' bench when a splendid solo run from halfway into rival territory saw her putting the ball into the net, settling the match which was played in very good spirits.
Indian coach Premkanta Singh was happy with the result but admitted that his team was given a tough fight.
"They are stronger and had good skill but my team also played well."
Iranian defender Katayoun Khosrowyar said the team was not too disappointed with the result and would learn from it.
"The result is not important. What we learnt from it is. We are a team from the cradle and India have been playing for a long time," she said.
"We will give a tougher fight in our home leg on October 27 as we will be playing in front of our supporters," she said before rushing to the Iranian embassy.