The Indian women’s national team has played just six competitive games since its premature AFC Asian Cup 2022 exit, following a COVID-19 outbreak in the camp.
But only two of the six have been at the Asian level where it beat Kyrgyzstan twice in the first round of Olympic Qualifiers. And Anju Tamang has found the net thrice in the two games.
As India looks for glory in the Asian Games and the Olympic qualifiers, 27-year-old Tamang spoke about the team and women’s football in India in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.
Q. India played in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup after 19 years but was forced to withdraw after a COVID-19 outbreak. How does the team handle such heartbreaks?
If one door closes, some other door opens. What happened (at the Asian Cup) was not in our control.
It did take some time for us to move on but for a player, setbacks keep coming and these are the situations that make us stronger. So, after some time, we started looking for different goals, the ones ahead of us.
What’s done is done, let’s focus on the Olympic qualifiers. Players would never stop working hard.
Q. Despite the AIFF Technical Committee recommending Anthony Andrews, Thomas Dennerby was re-appointed as the head coach. What is your impression of him as the gaffer?
Thomas sir is the best coach I’ve ever trained under. The experience that he’s had in coaching had brought many changes in the side, especially in the mentality of players.
The players started looking at matches and results with a different perspective and they got more confident. His presence helps players develop individually.
Q. The Indian women’s u-17 team played in a FIFA World Cup for the first time and some of them have made a transition into the senior team as well. How has youth development of women’s football changed in India from when you grew up?
My case was a bit different because I got into the senior team directly. I never played junior nationals because the ecosystem for football recruitment was not very strong in our area then.
But the players that are emerging now, like the under-17 players, I feel they have the urge to learn and they learn quickly as well.
That helps them and us. We talk to each other, develop mutual respect and that contributes to team chemistry overall.
Q. You play with Bala Devi on the national team as well as for Odisha FC in the Indian Women’s League. How important is her and the seniors’ advice during the matches?
The seniors in the team try to guide the youngsters with their experience. On the field, we play but the off the field, we discuss the games and positioning. The more we talk, the more I am comfortable during the games.
They always say that we have to believe in ourselves, no matter what. That is the first thing that they motivated me to do and I still stick to it.
Q. The Indian Women’s League 2023 attracted a lot of questions about organising the tournament properly. What are the changes that you, as a player, would want in the IWL?
As a player, we can train in any season, be it summer, winter or the monsoons. But the changes that I feel need to be done (in IWL) are that the grounds can be better and the distance between our hotels and match venues can be reduced.
It took at least 45 minutes for us to reach the ground. And match timings can be changed as well. When we train at home, we wake up around 4:30-5 am. That’s not a problem but for matches, a bit of late timings would be favourable.
In the last few years, we have had a lot of exposure trips for the national team which has further strengthened us. So, I feel, the domestic league should also be a bit longer and more focus should be put on grassroots development.
(The IWL 2021-22 season was a 41-day league which was longer compared to the 2022-23 edition that lasted just 25 days)
Q. Only a fraction of the IWL 2023 was live-streamed on the Indian Football YouTube Channel. Do you think more matches should be broadcast?
Yes, I feel more matches should be live-streamed or broadcast. A lot of young players are coming up now who take inspiration from IWL players. And if more young girls watch such games and players, they will get more motivation (to take up the sport).
Q. Now that FIFA Women’s World Cup is going on, who has been your inspiration in international football?
I have been a fan of Marta since my childhood because the place that I come from has a chunk of Brazilian fans. So, there were fans of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. But when I started watching World Cup (FIFA Women’s WC), Marta was very famous.
So when I started playing, I started following her and looking up at her. She inspired me a lot. There are days when I do not feel like training and I start thinking about her and try to train as hard as I can.
Q. Has your rise in Indian football motivated youngsters from your area?
My birthplace is in the Dooars area of West Bengal. In my village, there are not many coaches but whenever I go home, a lot of kids come to train and I really like training them. Initially, only one or two children would come but now it’s around 24 and sometimes, 30.
Overall, if you look in the Dooars area, a lot of young players have started coming up. The area where I studied – in Algarah, Kalimpong – already had a culture of football and after they saw me playing for football, it has only grown, among both boys and girls.
It feels nice. I feel really good about it that at least I can motivate them in some way.
Q. Who is your role model in Indian Football?
Kamala Devi has been my role model since I started playing. Early on, there were many players like Bembem Devi.
But when I started watching live, I liked Kamala di’s game, the way she moved in the midfield and in the attacking third. I still like her game and whenever I get to play with her, it feels great and at times, I even tell her that while playing.
Q. India is preparing for the Asian Games and the second round of Olympic qualifiers, with the national camp set in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. How are the preparations going?
We have been playing consistently for a few months now – the first round, then the IWL and the senior Nationals.
After the off-season, we started preparing for the next competition – the Asian Games and the second round of Olympic qualifiers.
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