Pitted against two higher-ranked teams in China (19th in FIFA Rankings) and Chinese Taipei (ranked 39th) in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022, the Indian women’s team, ranked 55th in the world, will have to put up its best show if it has to achieve the target set by head coach Thomas Dennerby.
Dennerby has said the team will aim to qualify for the quarterfinals and take things forward from there.
Iran (ranked 70th) is the only team in their group that is placed lower than India in the FIFA rankings and beating them when they meet on January 20 will be the first step for the team in its quest for a spot in the last-eight.
On Tuesday, Dennerby said that to achieve their target, the team will have to play “together as a unit”.
“Since I have taken charge, the focus has been to play together as a unit — knowing how, and when to press. We have reduced the number of long balls, and are now focusing on playing through the middle to penetrate,” Dennerby told the official pre-match press conference held on Tuesday.
“We are happy with the preparations as we have been working hard for a long time. We have spent a long time working together with more than 200 sessions — tactical, technical, physical. We feel we are ready,” the head coach said.
“Our target is to qualify for the quarterfinals, and we think it’s a realistic target,” he reiterated.
Dennerby said the team is well prepared and ready for the challenge.
“We are prepared well and this is the first time we are playing competition like this. We will try to stay relaxed, stay focused. I will tell the players that they are in good shape and they can play their best against these strong teams. In the end, it is a football game and that is what these girls are good at,” the coach said.
India had travelled to six countries in 2021 for exposure tours to prepare for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 which included tours to Brazil, Sweden, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Bahrain and the UAE. The women have also been in preparatory camps under Dennerby since August 2021 in Jamshedpur, and have been training in Kochi since the first week of December 2021.
Captain Ashalata Devi said the team has gained a lot during the exposure trips and was confident that the players will do their best.
“We have used the exposure trips to play against strong teams and that has helped our confidence. Those trips have helped the team and players to grow together, gain experience. That exposure will further help us when we play against strong teams,” said Ashalata.
The captain dismissed speculation that they will be under pressure as they are playing in such an event for the first time and that too at home.
“There is no pressure on us. Going into any tournament, excitement and pressure are normal. We understand that there won’t be fans in the stands, but we are equally excited to play in a tournament on our home ground,” said Ashalata.
Ashalata sees a lot of opportunities for the players in the event and beyond.
“It’s a big challenge for me and my players to play in this event. If we qualify for the quarterfinals, we have a chance of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup next year and that will be huge,” she said.
For that to happen, the first step will be the match against Iran, and Dennerby and his girls are confident of doing well against them.