Bembem Devi: Road to Olympic qualifiers couldn't have been better planned

The Indian senior women’s team coach says an international tournament in India is the perfect step for women’s football in the country.

Bembem Devi: "Women’s football is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be as fit as the boys. Nowadays, players can always discuss with the coach(es) and also the trainers."   -  aiff media

India women's football team head coach Bembem Devi feels the “roadmap to the Olympic qualifiers couldn’t have been better planned” for her side.

In an interview, she spoke at length about the favourites for the Hero Gold Cup — the first-ever international tournament for women in India —, about "women's football not being for the faint-hearted,” the current team, and much more.

The Hero Gold Cup is being held in Bhubaneswar. What’s your initial reaction?

An international tournament for the senior women’s team in India is the perfect step for women’s football in India. I am very excited as it will provide the girls with the exposure which they require, along with valuable match timing against powerful teams like Myanmar and Iran. All of that will add to the confidence.

The girls have stayed unbeaten in the last 4 friendlies against Hong Kong and Indonesia.

I attribute all of that to perfect planning. The roadmap to the Olympic Qualifiers couldn’t have been better planned. The last four matches gave the girls a taste of international football, that too playing in a tight schedule which is always the case in AFC tournaments.

Now as they move on to play in the Hero Gold Cup, I feel it will make them realise the challenges of playing against versatile teams. The Olympic qualifiers are around the corner, and you couldn’t have expected a better preparation.

How much do preparatory camps help?

A long coaching camp always helps. But it will not have its effect unless you play matches and test yourself. The coaching camp provides the luxury to work on certain aspects which otherwise, would have gone neglected.

The boys look to be in proper shape. But the real challenge begins now. The more you play, the more you learn. There’s been a significant shift in the paradigm of women's football in India.

In such a situation, what do the girls need to do?

Football has changed drastically. You cannot wait for your turn to get a call into the camp and then start to prepare. If you are a serious footballer, you need to maintain your fitness all throughout the year. You need to train hard, hit the gym, rest well, and most importantly take care of what you eat. Women’s football is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be as fit as the boys. Nowadays, players can always discuss with the coach(es) and the trainers.

Which team do you believe will be the toughest in the Hero Gold Cup?

It’s wrong to predict teams in football but on paper, Myanmar appears strongest. I was in Mandalay recently for an Indo-Myanmar Friendly match organised by the government of Manipur and they were all very excited. The touches of their players were so exquisite. I feel they are the favourites.

At the same time, Iran has improved drastically in the last 10 years, while Nepal is such an unpredictable team. It will be a very interesting tournament.

With so much happening in women's football in India, do you miss being a player?

(Smiles). Not really as I am enjoying my coaching stint. I have played over 20 years and my heart is full. It’s time to pass on my experience to the juniors, and allow others to carry on the mantle.

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