Thomas Dennerby: India U-17 defensively strong, will be hard to score against – SportsMediaz

India U-17 women’s football team head coach Thomas Dennerby has said the team is going to give it their all when it starts its maiden World Cup campaign in Bhubaneswar next week.

“We want to be in the quarterfinals and are going to fight with our lives. But the way to do it is to only focus on our performances,” Dennerby told the press.

“We have to stick to our plan, stay calm and plan accordingly after the first game. A strong belief in what we are doing is usually the key for each and everything.”

India, which will go up against the USA in its opener, will also have Brazil and debutant Morocco in Group A. Brazil, the reigning U-17 CONMEBOL champion will be a major impediment to the host’s progress.

“All of them (Brazil, USA, Morocco) are strong and powerful teams that play very high press. We will need to handle that and we have thought of a way to handle that,” the 63-year-old said.

“We take one game at a time. We know we’re going to play the USA. We know, hopefully, how to do that, from our analysis of the United States team.”

India has been busy in preparatory tournaments since last year and the result of the side’s hard work was evident in the U-18 SAFF Championship, which the country won for the first time, in March this year.

However, two key members of the squad, Amisha Baxla and Martina Thokchom – who were part of the U-17 squad shortlisted before the postponement – will be absent from this team as their age is now beyond the threshold for the World Cup. Martina was last seen in action at the 2022 SAFF Women’s Championship in Nepal last month.

“We have a lot of good central midfielders in the team. We have Babina (Devi), Kajal, Shilky Devi, Shailja. We have five good players and we have two really good attacking midfielders… Maybe not up to the level of Martina, but they are very close to her,” Dennerby said, while also informing India may have injury concerns in Pinky Devi, who had suffered an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear a while ago, and Shilky Devi Hemam, who had fractured her leg.

India U-17 played its last preparatory tournament in Spain last month, where it played Sweden U-17 and WSS Barcelona – a Catalan academy. While it lost against Sweden, it won the other game by a staggering 17-1 margin.

Talking about strategies and India’s style of play, Dennerby said, “You will see India as a well-organised team with a really strong defence that is hard to score against. We are going to see quick attacks at times, and counter-attacks, because we have a lot of speed on wings and forwards and we have to utilise them to our strengths. All games start 0-0 and we are going to fight with our lives to earn every point from our opponents. But, first of all, we are focusing on our performances and we hope good performances also lead to points.”

The scouting process for the U-17 women’s World Cup began in 2019 through national tournaments as well as the U-17 women’s Championship. India finally circled in on 21 players and the squad was announced on October 5.

Dennerby says after a primary round of scouting, about 50 players were shortlisted. They came in and went out of the team based on performances. At a point in time, around 35 players were always there in the (national) camp.

“By August, we brought that number to 30 and just before the tour (to Spain last month), we came down to 23 which finally ended with 21,” he said.

Dennerby’s ambitions suffered a major blow when he, in charge of the senior team, saw his side forced out of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup after a COVID-19 outbreak.

In 2019, the Swede was instrumental in guiding the Nigeria women’s team to its best World Cup finish since 1999, but his spell in the Asian subcontinent still awaits a major trophy. That is something he would look to change sooner than later.

“We know that we are playing two top teams. But if we have a really good day and the top teams have a bit of a wobble, there is always a chance for the weaker teams to come out as an underdog. If we get a chance, we will take it,” Dennerby said.

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