After India’s group-stage exit in the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup in October last year, head coach Thomas Dennerby stressed the need to have all age-group teams together.
“In a big country like India, it could be a good thing to have an AIFF 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,” he had said.
That dream – to some extent – has been materialised in Chennai as the U-17, U-20 and the senior teams have been brought under the same roof, with coaches of all three sides co-ordinating the progress of Indian football.
“It is super important. The U-17 is just here (very recently), so I did not have much time to go and see them. But what I understood is that coaching staff are exchanging experiences and opinions,” Dennerby told Sportstar in an exclusive interview.
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“So, if we are looking for, say a right-back, in the senior team, we check (after consulting the coaches) if there are worthy players in the lower age-group teams.
And who knows, when the U-20 side is done with AFC Qualification in March, maybe some players, who do well there, can arrive in the senior team to be there and fight for Olympic qualification,” he added.
‘Small things on the international stage punish you directly’
The women’s U-20 team suffered a 1-3 loss to Nepal in the SAFF Championship this month and will look to turn its fortunes, under head coach Maymol Rocky, at the AFC Qualifiers in Vietnam.
The team – mainly comprising the squad that played the U-17 World Cup under Dennerby – is drawn with Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore and will start its qualification campaign against Singapore on March 7.
“Small things on the international stage punish you directly. I think all the girls in the World Cup squad – when I met them then and now, around January 8, I think they have learnt a lot from that experience,” Dennerby said, talking about the girls.
“It was a tough experience, we lost three games and it is easy to start questioning yourself. But I feel most girls took the experience in a good way.”
However, the plan of having a conjoined pool of players is not a long-term plan, AIFF general secretary Shaji Prabhakaran told Sportstar.
“These (combined camps) are not a long-term plan. We arranged this surrounding the senior team, which is supposed to play against Nepal in Chennai,” said Shaji.
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“The main intention of the camps was to inspire more local communities to get into the sport and definitely, there are a number of Tamil Nadu players who are coming forward (for the Indian team).
But there are some logistical challenges and issues of having long-term combined camps in Chennai, so we will shift to separate camps soon,” he added.
Sources from Tamil Nadu Football Association further revealed that the combined camps will be up to May 2023.
A packed year for women’s football in India
This year is set to be an extremely busy year for women’s football in India, for all the age-group teams.
While the U-20 team will be in action in Vietnam, the U-17 team will try its luck at the under-17 SAFF Championship in Bangladesh next month, where a new opponent awaits.
Russia will feature in the tournament for the first time after being banned by the UEFA and FIFA and is scheduled to play India on March 28. The team will then travel to Kyrgyzstan to play Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan for qualification in the AFC Asian Cup in the under-17 category.
The senior team, on the other hand, has the Gold Cup, the Olympic Qualifiers, and Asian Games lined up later this year.
Clubbed alongside Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Blue Tigresses will play at least five friendly games before the qualifiers, the head coach said. India, which has won just once in seven matches at the Asian Games, will look to change history when it travels to Hangzhou.
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As the three teams (U-17, U-20 and senior teams) scatter after combined camps for about six months, it will be interesting to see whether Dennerby – the mastermind who guided Sweden to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup bronze medal – was right about his idea of training or will a new dawn usher in for the future of women’s football in the country.
For now, it is carpe-diem for Indian women footballers in the port-city of Tamil Nadu.
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