AFC Women’s Asian Cup: India’s plan is to break down Iran’s defence in opener, says coach Thomas Dennerby

PTIUpdated:Tuesday, January 18, 2022, 03:39 PM IST
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India coach Thomas Dennerby with his players | Photo: AIFF Media

India head coach Thomas Dennerby on Tuesday said the hosts would aim to break down a strong Iranian defence with an attacking game to eke out a win in their women's AFC Asian Cup opener in Navi Mumbai on Thursday.

The match against Iran would be crucial for India in their bid to qualify for the quarterfinals. Iran are the lowest ranked team in Group A which also has China and Chinese Taipei. They are ranked at 70th in the world as against India's 55th.

“Our first target is to get to quarterfinals. We think we have a realistic chance to do that. Iran is going to be a real tough game. We have followed them through videos and they are really a fighting (team),” Dennerby said in a virtual media interaction.

“They (Iran) have strong defence, they defend very well around their box. It is going to be a challenge for us to score. It is not going to be an easy game. We are hoping that with some creative and good passing game, we can break down their defence,” he added.

“We have a lot of players that can create chances and score goals. We have to be good all through the match.”

A win against Iran will give India a big chance to make it to the knock-out stage – the quarterfinals. A quarterfinal berth will virtually ensure at least an Inter-continental Play-offs berth for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Five teams from the tournament will directly qualify for the 2023 women's FIFA World Cup while another two will make it to the Intercontinental Play-offs. Australia, which finished runners-up in the last edition of the AFC Asian Cup, have already qualified for the 2023 FIFA World Cup as co-hosts.

"It is a big challenge obviously for us, but it is also a very big opportunity. If we qualify for the quarterfinals, we have a chance for qualifying for the FIFA World Cup next year and that will be huge for Indian football," said captain Ashalata Devi.

"We are hoping that the Asian Cup being hosted in India will give a big boost to women's football in our country. Everyone in the team now wants to play the first match right away," said the pivot of Indian defence with 64 caps under her belt.

Since taking charge of the Indian team in August last year, Dennerby has been trying to change the playing style from a predominantly long ball game to short passing one.

"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 with the crucial passes.

"We have also worked a lot on fitness. The players are going to play every third day and you need to be fit for that." The Indian team had exposure tours of six different countries in 2021 -- Brazil, Sweden, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Bahrain and the UAE -- to prepare for the continental showpiece.

"We are happy with the preparations as we have been working hard for a long time for this tournament. We have done more than 200 sessions -- tactical, technical, physical. We are ready for the game against Iran," the experienced Swede said.

"We will try to stay relaxed and focused. The players are in good shape, and they are confident," said Dennerby who had earlier coached the national women's teams of Sweden and Nigeria.

India and Iran have faced each other in very few matches. The last time the two sides met, in Bhubaneswar in 2019, India had won 1-0.

The Indian team has players who have played against some Iranian players in the inaugural AFC Women's Club Championships last year. Iranian side Shahrdari Sirjan had finished runners-up in that tournament while India's Gokulam Kerala ended at third.

Asked about any talk in the team regarding those Iranian players, Ashalata said, "I did not play for Gokulam in those matches. We have obviously spoken about the national team players of Iran, how they play, their key players and we have a plan. There is no pressure on us. Going into such a big 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," she quipped.

The top two from each of the three groups, along with the two best third-placed sides across groups, will make it to the quarterfinals.

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