Thomas Dennerby aspires to inspire women’s team for Asian Cup challenge

Thomas Dennerby, the Indian women’s senior national team coach, says the target is to reach the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup.

Bigger responsibilities: Thomas Dennerby was promoted from the U-17 role to the senior team by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) last August.   -  AIFF Media

Thomas Dennerby, the Indian women’s senior national team coach, is confident with the preparations for the home AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Maharashtra. The former Sweden and Nigeria national women’s team coach was promoted from the U-17 role to the senior team by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) last August.

The experienced Swede spoke to Sportstar on the changes he has incorporated since his appointment, what he expects at the Asian Cup and more.

AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022: Full fixtures list; dates; venues

How has the preparation come along ahead of the Asian Cup?

Absolutely. All good so far. We have had almost 200 sessions since we started in August. More than 100 football sessions, running, and strength sessions. Add to that, there were team and tactical sessions in classrooms. Hopefully, we are ready now and we are looking forward to the start of the tournament. You have the feeling now, it’s getting closer. Now, it’s time to do it.

How is the mood in the camp closer to the tournament?

There is no issue regarding motivation. If you are not motivated for a tournament like this, you should probably do something else (laughs). It's really nice, we have a good environment. The girls are happy, we had an inspirational meeting, had a little bit of pep talk and saw videos of all the tough training we have done in the past. We could see a change in the eyes of the girls. It’s also fun for us to see that the girls are ready.

Looking ahead: Thomas Dennerby believes that a good show at the Asian Cup will encourage a lot of young girls to take up the sport more seriously.   -  AIFF Media


The team has stayed in a bubble for a long time. How have you kept them fresh through the period?

For us staff, we need to be the inspirational ones, pushing them every day. No person, whether it’s a staff or a player, can have your best day in all the 150 days we spent together. As coaches and players, we need to know when to change the mood. Sometimes it’s just hard work, sometimes I have to go through painful moments to go to the next steps. Our job is to motivate when it’s super tough and their muscle soreness is bad, or when they run a lot or lift weights or to wake them up from bed, then you have to push them anyway. We are now not doing double sessions like we used to. Now, all the hard work is done. We can’t change the level of the player. It’s about inspirational stuff and tactical training. The hard time is over.

Have you covered all the bases with your selection?

We have a really good mix. We have players with speed, playing vision, players who are tough and are good passing players. We have two players for every spot on the team. We have good back-ups for each position. Hopefully, that will also help us in a long tournament. Everyone needs to be ready, not just the first XI. Everyone is as important as the No. 1 player. This is a team sport and what counts is what we do together.

What was your assessment of the task at hand when you were appointed in August? What are the changes you sought to make the team a competitive unit for the tournament?

When I arrived, the good thing with the players was that they had a good playing vision, players with speed and good passing play in midfield. That was really, really good. But the thing that I felt that we lacked was the fitness level. When you are playing at a higher tempo, you need to raise the fitness level. Be a little bit stronger in duels and one-v-one situations. That comes with your balance and strength and conditioning training.

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When it came to tactical, we were looking for the quick forward players very early. We were sending balls from defending lines. We are working on good patterns, where we are going through midfield and playing the crucial passes with accuracy in higher positions in the field, make it easier to receive for the forwards to make it harder for the opponent’s defensive line to defend against. Those were the key issues. We worked all areas: individual, technical development and tactical. The key was to play those crucial passes from higher positions.

Moment to cherish: The Indian team is all smiles after an international friendly with South American giant Brazil.   -  AIFF Media


With the friendly matches you played, are you seeing the desired results ahead of the tournament?

Yes, I think we played different opponents with different levels and playing styles. In the first tour, we went to UAE and Bahrain and came out with three wins [from four matches]. That was good and, honestly, these teams couldn’t handle the tempo we were playing at, which was a positive for us. We played two Premier League teams in Sweden. They were very equal games and the result could have gone either way. And finally, the tour to Brazil when we played against a totally another style of football. So extremely comfortable with the ball all three teams [Brazil, Chile and Venezuela].

Brazil is a little bit better than the other two but still, they are very comfortable and cultured with the ball. It’s so easy for them to handle [the ball], they never looked under pressure. The passing game they have is very good and they were very fair games and it helped us a lot to understand the highest level. It also helped us in understanding three hard games in a short time with the preparation of eating, sleeping, treatment and training [much like the Asian Cup schedule]. You don’t have time for anything else.

You have played both Asian and South American opponents. How do the two styles compare against each other and how will those matches help India compete against the best in the Asian Cup this month?

We have been watching Iran and we have seen them play. If we look at the style, they are more similar to the teams we played in UAE and Bahrain but better I would say. They are a really strong team with tough girls. That will be a challenge for us. In game 2, we have Chinese Taipei, who we played in Bahrain. We won 1-0. That gave us a little bit of confidence that we can handle teams from our group but still it is a good team. When it comes to competition, it’s a little bit about how one handles experience in those games. We have played China a lot and they are a typical Asian team, I would say. A lot of short passes, good combinations and good balance. A lot of through passes and instinctive passes, which will be a big challenge for us. Although they are not of the same level when they won this tournament seven or eight times in a row, they are still a good team.

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What would this competition mean for the women’s team and women’s football in the country?

Our target is to be in the quarterfinals. That is a good step for us to make and that will give us an opportunity to stake a place in the World Cup. We can’t focus too far, we have to take it one game at a time. If we reach the quarterfinals, that will be a successful tournament for us and I hope that can encourage a lot of young girls to have these girls as their idols and start aiming to make the national team in 5-10 years.

Whatever we do here, the most important thing for a country is the grassroots. From state team to the national team, the more players you have, the better quality in the end. Hopefully, this can change Indian women’s football for a long time.

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