India, under Swedish Thomas Dennerby, enter January’s 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup aiming to rebuild their team’s reputation on the continental scene. The hosts were a competitive side in the early editions of the Asian finals, notably finishing as runners-up in 1979 and 1983.
But the decades since have brought little to celebrate for the Blue Tigresses. Indeed, India have featured in just five of the past 14 editions, never progressing beyond the group stage.
Competing as hosts of the upcoming Women’s Asian Cup, however, provides India with the chance to rewrite a few of those statistics, although Dennerby – who took over in August – is aware of how tough his task is.
You have had just a few months to prepare for January’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
We have been on training camps. The most important is to start working not just in sessions, but also in games. A couple of victories can help us get that winning mentality, and make everyone believe that we can do it. Football is, after all, a mental game.
Are you confident of taking India to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023?
Let’s take it step by step. Of course, we have a dream, and that starts with us being one among the eight teams in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup. If we can reach that level, anything can happen. I can only promise everyone that we will go out with a winning mentality and put in a huge effort. And that we will fight with our lives.
What’s your assessment of the current trends in the women’s game and its general development?
The passing game has become so much better over the years. The technical abilities of the players have also increased a lot. And if we look at the organisation, the structure of the teams, and even defending, all of that is much more compact nowadays. Today there are no weak teams. Most teams are very well organised and difficult to score against.
Overall, the levels of competition have increased a lot. I started coaching in 1997, so I feel like an old man now (laughs), and at that time we had a team with some good players, some players that were OK and some, if I am honest, who wouldn’t stand any chance to play today. All players are physical nowadays.
Which is your greatest achievement so far in coaching: taking Sweden to third place at Germany 2011, becoming Swedish Manager of the Year award in 2004 or leading Nigeria to France 2011?
It’s hard to rank it all. In fact, it all depends on where you are. In Sweden they always want you to win medals, while in Nigeria we won the AFCON Championship and qualified for the Women’s World Cup. I still nurture a dream, and at the moment it’s seeing India make it to the quarter-finals of this Women’s Asian Cup.
What is the potential of India women team? Are there any talented players who particularly impress you?
We have some players who are playing at a very good level and players with special qualities. It is hard to single one out as all of them are special. This being a team game, it’s not appropriate to specify names at the moment. But some of the girls have been very impressive. I keep on pushing them.