India’s maiden FIFA Under-17 World Cup campaign ended in heartbreak as the young Blue Tigresses lost all their three group games, conceding 16 goals.
“We need to have a good long-term program for them, a really good schedule. In a big country like India, it could be a good thing to have an AIFF (All India Football Federation) Academy where we can have the best players, from the Under-17, Indian Arrows, Under-19 and the senior teams, practising together, seeing each other and having role models. Help them with education and let them have a good coach,” Thomas Dennerby, the head coach, had said after the tournament.
Dennerby and his wards will look to learn from the experience of playing against the best in the world and chart a course for improvement when they join the national camp for the 2023 U-20 SAFF Championship in Chennai from January 9.
The arena of champions
About 20 kilometres from the main city, India’s shot at redemption will begin at the Home Games Sports Arena – a training ground in a quiet and serene setting with skyscrapers as a backdrop.
The arena has a 100m x 60m ground for five-a-side matches with FIFA standard goalposts, two changing rooms and one equipment room.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the place serves as the perfect hideout for the team to prepare in peace, as opposed to training in the much-frequented Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium inside the city.
The arena serves as a training base for one of India’s most successful women’s football clubs, Sethu FC. It has won the Indian Women’s League once and the Tamil Nadu Women’s League twice.
“These are crucial times for the India U-20 girls. They have just graduated from the U-17 to the U-20 level and are on the brink of senior football. Some of them have already played for the senior team,” Maymol Rocky, the U-20 head coach, told the AIFF website.
While India has failed to impress in intercontinental tournaments, its rise in Asia looks promising. Under Dennerby, the U-18 women’s team beat favourite Bangladesh to win its maiden SAFF U-18 Championship in March last year.
Stage set for glory
The Blue Tigresses will take part in the SAFF U-20 Championship in February and then the AFC U-20 Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers in November.
The core of the U-17 World Cup team, including captain Astam Oraon, is part of the U-20 squad and the return of Martina Thokchom and Amisha Baxla, who failed to make the team after crossing the age threshold, will offer the Tigresses firepower.
India starts its SAFF campaign on February 3 against Bhutan and will play Bangladesh (February 5) and Nepal (February 7) next, allowing it a month to prepare.
The Home Games Sports Arena has a poster of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe – two icons of women’s football and US soccer – on its roof.
When India begins its training on Monday, it will look to forget the horrors of the World Cup opening day loss to Morgan and Rapinoe’s USA and show the world that it can play “much better than this,” as Dennerby had said.
INDIA U-20 WOMEN’S SQUAD
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