Incheon: Women's football may not be India's forte in sports but two referees - Maria Rebello Piedade and Uvena Fernandes - scripted Indian football history when they officiated in the Asian Games women's semifinal match between World champions Japan and Vietnam in Incheon Tuesday.
This is the first time an Indian woman referee has officiated in a match featuring a current World champion. Maria adjudicated the match while Urvena was the assistant referee. Japan won the match 3-0 and will take on North Korea in the final, who beat South Korea 2-1 in the other semifinal. Both have officiated in three matches at the Asian Games.
"It's not every day that you get to officiate in a match involving the world champions," the elated duo said. "To be able to be a part of the biggest sporting event in Asia is simple amazing," said Maria.
"The experience in Incheon was exceptional. It was simply great. There was so much to learn and gain from the championships," said Uvena, adding: "The women's semi-final has been my biggest match so far. Nothing can beat this. After all, this was my first Asian Football Confederation (AFC) assignment. The atmosphere in Incheon is different as it brought together all athletes from all disciplines."
They hoped that now many Indian women will take up refereeing after them.
"There are a lot of young girls who are slowly taking up refereeing. The encouragement from the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) has been outstanding in this regard. The face of Indian refereeing is changing and at a fast pace," said Maria.
AIFF head of referees Gautam Kar lauded the achievement of the girls. "To be selected to supervise the women's semi-final, one needs to be the best. And we had two women referees in the middle. It just can't get better for Indian referees," he said, adding: "Not to forget that both officiated in three matches each."
Maria was the first-ever woman referee in the world to supervise a premier league match of any country when she officiated an I-League match March 8, 2014 between Pune and Shillong Lajong. The match eneded 2-2.
"I will be proceeding to the AFC Under-19 Women's Championship in Hanoi, Vietnam in November," she said, adding: "But this was such a different experience. It was such exciting and there was so much scope to educate yourself, keeping an eye on the future."
Magho Singh and Arumughan Rowan were the other Indian male referees who officiated in Incheon.