Keep your Olympic dream burning, Dennerby tells his girls despite Japan jolt

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN: Japan seven, India nil. Calling it a difficult day for the Indian women’s team would be an understatement. But there’s no embarrassment at all in losing to a world-class opponent like Japan. A team who put four past eventual champions Spain in the World Cup was always going to be the mother of all challenges for the Blue Tigresses.

“We knew already before the game that we were going to play one of the best teams in the world. And honestly, I’m quite impressed with Japan and the individual skills of their players. It’s lovely to see them playing football, the moving, the passing, the touches, everything. It’s a super good team,” said India head coach Thomas Dennerby after the match.

At half-time, it was only 0-1. India, very much in the game. Lining up with a back three of Ritu Rani, Ashalata Devi and Sweety Devi, India thwarted countless Japanese attacks, frustrating the 8th-ranked side. “I think in the first half we could keep our team shape very well, and we defended with our hearts and fought very, very hard. We couldn’t create so much, but the defending game was definitely good,” shared the Swede.

The problems started right at the start of the second half. It turned out that Japan needed that 15-minute breather more than India. And when Yoshino Nakashima scored her and Japan’s second less than a minute after the restart, the floodgates opened. Three more goals in the next 10 minutes, and the brave Indian backline of the first half was rendered into a hapless one.

“When we came to the second half, we gave away the ball just outside our own penalty box. And after 0-2 already in the first minute of the second half, the team morale dropped a little bit,” explained Dennerby.

“We couldn’t keep the team shape, and if you can’t do that and give the Japanese players half a metre extra, they are so skilled to utilise that. And they did.”

The concern for Dennerby, wasn’t conceding goals. It was the manner in which his side did. “The only thing I couldn’t live with is that we gave away the ball just outside our own box. One of the things when you play a team like Japan is that you need to have discipline. You need to play a proper pass outside your own box. You don’t go backwards and give the ball away.”

By the time the Blue Tigresses managed to compose themselves, it was already five. There was no other choice but to go into damage limitation mode. Perhaps had India held the fort for longer at the start of the second half, the story could’ve been different. “After 0-2, of course, it’s uphill. You lose a little bit of focus and get tired. But I’m not only talking about the fitness level. Mental fatigue is also there. Then it’s tough,” said Dennerby.

Enough about the issues. Every defeat hurts, but there’s no game where you don’t learn something. India’s entries in the Japanese half were limited, but players like Anju Tamang and substitute Soumya Guguloth tried their best to stretch the play and cause whatever trouble they could. The chance at death, which was shot over by Tamang, was the closest India came to a consolation goal. “If we had been a little bit lucky, we could have scored in the end and gotten a goal against Japan. That would have been nice for India. It would have been fun to score to boost the team spirit and morale,” wished Dennerby.

The player who impressed the coach the most was centre-back Ritu Rani. “I’m proud because no one was giving up the game. I would say that Ritu Rani played her super game today. She was fighting so hard in the defending line, and it was really fun to see her,” he praised.

But India’s Olympic dream is still alive. Next up, Vietnam and then Uzbekistan—two teams Dennerby feels India are on more equal footing with. Six points will give his girls a chance to qualify for the next round as the best runners-up.

“We are now looking forward to it. The two most important games for us are coming up. Vietnam and Uzbekistan. Hopefully, this game helps us reach a higher tempo so that we can handle the next two games. It’s more important for us to win against them. But of course, it’s going to be two really tough games. We have been watching videos of our opponents, so we know a lot about them.”

India will face Vietnam on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent at 15:30 IST.

Also Read: Mrs. Nita Ambani has been proactive and personally involved in the growth of Indian football: John Abraham, owner NEUFC

Also Read: Hyderabad FC look to draw confidence from past record against Mumbai City FC to bag first win of the season

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