AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal spot our primary target, says coach Dennerby

Indian women’s football team head coach Thomas Dennerby has set quarterfinals as the “primary target” for his side in the AFC Asian Cup India 2022 tournament, scheduled to kick off here on January 20, with the hosts playing Iran in the opener.

“We aim to get into the quarterfinals, which is our primary target. If we qualify to the last-eight… anything and everything can happen. The quarterfinals are a knockout stage, and all teams will be under pressure. Looking ahead, we feel it’s a realistic target that we can achieve. But let’s take it step by step,” said Dennerby on Friday.

“We have played different teams, different levels of teams, and different playing styles. We learned in Brazil wherein we played three games in a span of seven days with two days in between — a similar format to the group stage of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022. It allowed us to regain 100 per cent of energy, and get back to prime fitness,” the coach added.

The coach said that the defence will have to overcome its momentary lapse of concentration, for which the team had paid dearly during the games in South America.

“We have defended well most of the times, but there have been few seconds wherein there has been a lapse in our concentration, and once such a wrong step will be enough for the best teams to hurt us badly,” Dennerby explained.

“In the group stage, we play three different teams who have three different playing styles. The match against Iran will be an extremely tough opener for us. We need to be extremely sharp to thwart their counters, and to deal with their set-pieces,” he said.

“We have tried different players in different positions. When you go into such a big tournament, there can be injuries. So you need to keep all players prepared, and that everybody stays ready.”

The squad had been preparing since August last year in Jamshedpur, and has been training in Kochi since early December. The contingent has also travelled to six countries in 2021 which included exposure tours to Brazil, Sweden, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Bahrain and the UAE.

“We have had quite a long preparation, and it’s been more than five months that we have been together. We have sweated in over 200 different sessions including football sessions, running sessions, games against proper teams, working on different styles, and strength and conditioning sessions. We are feeling good,” Dennerby said.

Dennerby didn’t single out any particular player whom he foresees to play a crucial role.

“For us the support staff, all 23 players are of equal importance. I hope all players are raring to go and make a mark on the field. Of course, we can only bring 11 into the starting line-up. But it also happens what the game situation is all about, and how we need to react to it. Everyone has a role to play, and needs to be ready,” the coach added.

Dennerby has an experience of over 30 years in coaching several national squads with much success. He had guided Sweden’s women’s national team to a third-place finish in the FIFA World Cup in 2011, and a quarterfinal spot in the 2012 London Olympics.

Referring to the absence of stalwarts Sangita Basfore and Bala Devi, Dennerby said that, “it’s sad for the individuals, but we cannot be thinking much about it.

“We have around four players who have been out of the campaign nursing various injuries. There are four players whom we couldn’t pick. But as a coach I need to push all my energy on the players who are available, and my job is to support the 23 who are here,” he said.

India are drawn against Iran (January 20), Chinese Taipei (January 23) and China (January 26) in Group A. The top two from each of the three groups, along with the two best second-placed teams from the groups will make it to the quarterfinals.

The four semifinalists will earn a direct slot to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, while the losing quarterfinalists will make it to the play-offs for the Continental play-offs for the last possible slot from Asia.

Indian squad:

GOALKEEPERS: Aditi Chauhan (1), Maibam Linthoingambi Devi, Sowmiya Narayanasamy.

DEFENDERS: Dalima Chhibber, Sweety Devi Ngangbam, Ritu Rani, Loitongbam Ashalata Devi, Manisa Panna, Hemam Shilky Devi, Sanju Yadav.

MIDFIELDERS: Yumnam Kamala Devi, Anju Tamang, Karthika Angamuthu, Nongmeithem Ratanbala Devi, Naorem Priyangka Devi, Indumathi Kathiresan.

FORWARDS: Manisha Kalyan, Grace Dangmei, Pyari Xaxa, Renu, Sumati Kumari, Sandhiya Ranganathan, Mariyammal Balamurugan.

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