Abha (Saudi Arabia): After a six-week camp at Bhubaneswar, the Indian senior women’s football team has reached Saudi Arabia for the final leg of their preparations ahead of the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 2 in Uzbekistan later this month.
Despite suffering two defeats in the Asian Games in their first appearance in nine years in the Asian Games in Hangzhou recently, the Thomas Dennerby-coached squad is undaunted by the setbacks and is confident of putting up a good show.
India were left wanting in their two defeats to Chinese Taipei (1-2) and Thailand (0-1) at the continental games last month, and Dennerby has mixed feelings about the team’s showing in China.
“In one way, I was very happy with the team because I think our performances were definitely up to the mark. We played against two higher-ranked teams. We gave them a big fight, and that was good. But when you play a tournament like the Asian Games, you cannot only be happy playing well because that is not what really counts,” the Swede told aiff.com from Abha, Saudi Arabia.
“Points matter, and we didn’t get those in any of the games, so of course, I was very disappointed about that. But overall, it’s also important to have played two games despite the fact that we didn’t win. It helped us a lot to prepare because now we know a little bit more about the level of the team,” Dennerby was quoted as saying in a report.
The challenge ahead for the team in the Olympic Qualifiers is significantly tougher, with Japan, among the best not only in Asia but the world, awaiting them in the opening fixture on October 26.
Vietnam, who made their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut this year, and hosts Uzbekistan, ranked 50, make up Group C.
Four teams – the group winners and the best runners-up across the three groups will make their way into the next stage of the Paris 2024 qualification.
Dennerby believes the runners-up spot is what India, the lowest-ranked team in the group, can realistically hope to achieve.
“Everybody involved in football knows that Japan, against whom we will start the Olympic qualification round two, is a really strong team. The only team who beat the world champion (Spain) 4-0 in the World Cup this summer. They played the Asian Games with, you can say, their B team. The A team were playing against Argentina, who they beat 8-0. So we know it’s a really strong opponent, definitely.
“But of course, games are not decided on paper. We’re going to do whatever we can to win that game. We never enter the field and have the feeling that, yeah, it’s okay if we only lose with three or four goals. We can’t have that approach. Because if you have that approach, you usually also lose,” said the 64-year-old.
India will then square off against Vietnam on October 29 and Uzbekistan on November 1 in Tashkent. The venue will be quite familiar for the Blue Tigresses in Uzbekistan as they played a friendly against the hosts in March this year, losing 2-3.
“I can say that we will not enter the field being afraid of Vietnam and Uzbekistan. We lost narrowly to Uzbekistan last time. At that time, we also missed a couple of players who are with us now. I will say that Team India are a little bit stronger than it was in March. Vietnam is also a team we respect a lot. But we’re not afraid of anything. So, we will do whatever we can to take that spot as the best runners-up, because I guess it’s going to be tough to beat Japan for the top spot. So realistically, we should be very happy with second place,” said Dennerby.
He will hope that his team will not be daunted by the test ahead and put up its best performance.