With barely 48 hours left before India face USA in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022, on home turf, head coach Thomas Dennerby said it is time India show the world their ability to shine in women’s football.
Coach Dennerby spoke at length to AIFF about India’s preparations, their goals, chances, challenges and much more.
On India’s chances in the World Cup.
It’s not only about the result now. It’s about the performance to show that Indian girls can play football. But of course, inside the group, we have our own goals, and we are ready to fight for them. Against the USA, Brazil or Morocco, we are determined to earn points and score goals. And we’re going to show to the Indian fans that we have a good team. India, in a couple of years, can have a very successful team on the women’s side. So hopefully we can motivate the girls to start playing football and believe that it’s a nice sport for the girls.
Can this tournament play a role in convincing people that women can play football?
That’s why we also want to dish out a good performance. So, they feel that India really can challenge the best teams in the world. Also, when it’s shown on TV, it helps a lot. And it’s good for the younger girls to have role models to look up to. And hopefully, some of these girls, in a couple of years from now, can take the next step to the senior team and so on–you can keep on having them as role models for many years. Young girls should know they can have a successful career in football.
Your assessment of the preparations.
I think we had good preparations. We started at the end of February this year which also includes our exposure tours, the first one in July to Italy and Norway. And finally, last week, we were in Spain. I hope we are ready now.
Since you are the coach, the whole country has lots of expectations from you. Do you feel the pressure sometimes?
Of course, all coaches are under pressure when it comes to World Cups or other big tournaments. Because everybody expects you to have a successful team and so on. And, of course, you want to do it yourself also. I think sometimes you put more pressure on yourself – but I have gone through this before. So, I don’t get stressed. Whatever happens, you have to stay cool, you have to follow your plan. Don’t change anything, even if you lose the first game–stay by your plan, don’t panic and start changing everything. These are things you learn from being in this business for many years. And, of course, I would be lying, if I start saying that there is no pressure.
Are you a stickler for discipline?
I don’t know, really. You’re always trying to redo the group. And sometimes you have to be a little bit harder. If you feel that they are getting too calm or find them too cautious, and so on, then you have to push them a little bit. When they are pushing themselves, you can concentrate more on the technical parts and the small details help them with that. But if they have a day when they are not on, maybe you have to push more than go into the technicality. So, it’s like trying to redo the group all the time.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
We are going to this tournament with a really good fitness level now. All these things, training, running sessions and all that have helped a lot and we can see that we have a good fitness level. I think the girls have learned about positioning, where to go when we lose the ball and where to go when we win the ball back and how to open up the game and start playing and quickly come back when we lose the ball again. All these tactical details and positioning have become really good. So, I hope it’s going to be difficult to score against us.
Are the girls nervous?
I hope they are a little bit nervous. Being nervous is a part of concentration. It’s a part of preparations for the game for the body to prepare. Usually, when you walk out from the players’ tunnel and hear the crowd roar and look at them, and the national anthem is played – it creates an emotional atmosphere that matters. But when the referee blows the whistle, you have to forget about all that. It’s only you and the ball and the teammates and opponents.
When I used to play, I was super nervous before some games. But the more nervous I was the better I played – I needed that concentration. I needed something that tells me to push harder and I hope the girls will carry the same attitude. The crowd at home also can help and the girls should take that as an advantage.
Lastly, your message to the girls?
Just do it. Let’s do it!