Women's Football
With stronger defence and creative offence, we can beat better teams, says Thomas Dennerby
28 Jul 2023

Sruti Chakraborty
AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: For Thomas Dennerby, Round 1 of the 2024 AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in April in the Kyrgyz Republic was like accomplishing a mission for the Indian Senior Women’s National Team. The veteran Swedish coach did it in style and with an impeccable record, winning both matches with consummate ease.

Now, Head Coach Dennerby is back in India after a gap of three months to take up the challenge at the next level. Under him, the Blue Tigresses will launch their campaign in the 19th Asian Games and AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 2 in September and October, respectively. 

The first challenge for Dennerby will be the 19th Asian Games, where his team have been drawn with Chinese Taipei and Thailand in Group B. After the Asian Games, the Blue Tigresses will be heading to Uzbekistan to play in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 2. Hosts Uzbekistan, Japan, and Vietnam are the other teams in the four-team group. 

The National Camp for the Indian Senior Women’s Team, with 38 probables, will begin in Bhubaneswar from July 30.  

In an exclusive chat with www.the-aiff.com, Dennerby spoke at length about his feelings about coming back to India, looking forward to new challenges in the upcoming tournaments, selecting a large pool of players, and much more. 


Question: Welcome back, coach. How do you feel coming back to India again after a considerable time?

Thomas Dennerby: Thank you very much. I'm feeling good to be back with the team, my staff, and everyone. As the Head Coach, I’m happy because now we can go on with the plans for this autumn and see how far we can go. Competition games are always exciting and nice to be a part of. I am happy to be a part of the Asian Games and would like to see how far we can take these games. That’s probably the most important reason for being back here. It is a thrilling feeling. 

Q: Another season, another challenge, how do you plan to approach it?

TD: It will be a new challenge that is coming up. It’s been a while since the National team members were together. It was at the beginning of April when we played qualification Round One. Some other players have been playing in the same teams for their respective states; so they know each other pretty well already. But of course, football is a team sport. And what we have to do now is, first of all, is to probably raise the fitness level again, which includes conditioning training, strength training. And then, of course, technically, tactically, and let the players play a lot together. So, everyone is 100% sure what to do on the field. 

We have eight weeks before the Asian Games, and I think this time will be good for us. Also, we have picked a lot of players this time. So, hopefully, we also can find out which players are best for the moment because that is also very important. 

Q: A large pool of players has been selected, from the senior, U17, and U20 batches. How do you look at the list of probables? A balanced one?

TD: Yes, the list of probables is a little bit bigger. There are players from U20 and U17 teams, but all these players were picked so that we can be quite sure who is going to be important for Indian football in the future. Age is just a number. What finally decides is if you’re good enough, or you can give the team something that the team didn't have before. So, when the youngsters come, I hope they feel that they are also there on the same premises as all the other players, so we’ll say some of them will probably be there in the team and some not. We will also reduce the number of players after a couple of weeks because having 38 players when we get closer to the competition is a little bit too much. But we will see—it's up to every player to show them the best side and show that they want to be there and the ones putting in the biggest effort will probably be there.

Q: Sanju and Bala Devi are back after a long gap. How do you plan to make them ready for the big battle ahead? Or do you feel they are mature enough to get back into the groove easily?  

TD: I'm very happy for both of them. Bala was back in February, but again, she went back due to her ACL injury. She played very well in the games and I can see her skills. She is a player who will be useful for the national team. I met Sanju the last time when we were in the Asian Cup in January 2022, but during 2021 she played well and was one of the leading players in the Indian Women’s League. We all know that she is talented. Now it’s up to us to have her back physically first of all, and when you’ve been out for football for a while, your first touch, your movements, your reading of the game have to start again. Even if you have a small backup in your brain there you need to refresh everything, so hopefully we have them both in top form before it’s time to play competition games.

Q: The camp will be in Bhubaneswar, where you guided the U17 team in the World Cup. Feeling nostalgic? Or feeling excited to be back on the known turf?

TD: Yes, we’ve been there for a long time in 2022. It's a nice place with beautiful football fields and also has good gyms that we can use. Everything was very good, starting with the accommodation, food. There's nothing at all that I can remember that didn't work in Bhubaneswar thus far, and I hope we will have a really good camp again.

Q: Anthony Andrews and Maymol Rocky will be the other coaching staff with you, helping you around. Your thoughts?

TD: I'm very happy to have Andrew and Maymol around. It's going to be a good time together. Maymol already knows me and Andrew will also understand me in a while. I hope they feel free, really act in training and come up with their good tips -- how to help the team get better and so on. They can feel free to come up with their own opinion. Because even if I’m the Head Coach, it’s all about teamwork. It's the same for the players; we have to do this together. And whether we do it together as a team, with the coaching staff, or with the technical stuff, the better we help the player. 

Q: What are the areas of improvement you are looking at with this team?

TD: One of them is the same as we have been talking about before, that we have to utilise our chances around the offensive box. We created a lot of goalscoring chances in recent games but didn’t come out with so many goals. We also need to keep on working hard with the defence which has been working very well and we didn't let any goals in for two games in the Olympic qualification --not even a goal-scoring chance, I will say. But we let some easy goals go in during the friendly games when we were preparing for the Olympic qualification, which I feel is not good. So, we need to take that away and if we have the discipline to play with really strong defence, we know that we always create chances, even against really good teams. So, we should be sharp when it's time to finish and keep up the good discipline and defence, I think India could be a team that can go all the way through the qualification, if we have a super good day. 

Q: What kind of preparations are needed to tackle top teams like Japan, and Uzbekistan?

TD: It's an exciting and a tough group. We are not the favourites. Japan have already won two games in the World Cup without letting in a goal. Vietnam also are a good team. And yes, not to forget, finally, Uzbekistan, who are hosting the qualification round. So, it’s three games where I guess India are not one of the biggest favourites. But with a strong defence, and also knowing that we always create chances, a good day at work, we can have a chance to beat them. 

Japan will be very, very tough opponents. But the results of the football games are not decided on paper. They are decided on the pitch. It depends on how hard we work, how much effort we put in, and so on. We need to live with that from day one, when we arrive there. And when we arrive in Bhubaneswar, we have to prepare mentally for being a team that's going to make it through the next round. And also, of course, physically, technically, and tactically, we have to prepare.

Q: Lastly, has women’s football in India progressed enough to make it to the next level?

TD: I will say that women's football in India is developing and will keep on developing. And for me, as I said before, it's realistic to see India in the World Cup 2027 or at least the World Cup after that. But it doesn't come from just saying that we want to be there. It comes from hard work, a good long-term plan, regular meetings, never missing FIFA windows and all that. We must play the better teams, help the players develop the tempo. You need to read the games quicker, you need to make your decisions quicker. And to speed up all that and go through that process, it can only happen by playing against a really good team. The quicker you can do it, the better the team will be. We have to qualify for big tournaments in the future, but enough talented players are there. 

India have a huge number of young players. It is up to them to decide --I want to be there. I want to play in the World Cup one day because no coach in the world can ever force you to do it. You have to live with that passion yourself, and you have to put in the effort in. The coach can only help you and guide you on what to do, but it's your effort. That is the key.

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