It’s a must win for India Senior Women’s National team when they take on a “strong Myanmar” in their last group league match on April 9. Captain Ashalata Devi admits the “match will be tough”, but maintains that “easy was never an option”. In an exclusive interview, Ashalata talks at length about the team’s preparation, the Myanmar challenge, the Olympic qualification, and a lot more.
The last time around you made history in Myanmar by qualifying for Round 2. But can you make history by qualifying for Round 3?
We played the Olympic Qualifiers Round 1 in Yangon, and now are playing the Round 2 in Mandalay. The confidence started building up from Round 1 itself, and we are confident of getting past Round 2. The team possess the ability to stun some of the best teams in Asia, and we have shown that constantly be it in the Hero Gold Cup, or the Turkish Women’s Cup, and the SAFF Women’s Championship.
It is relatively a young squad with an average age of 21. How have the younger players stepped up?
The younger players have taken up a much more mature role. Not only off the field but on the field as well – their football indicates maturity. The team has a young core, and these young players could very well go on to become the mainstay in years to come for us. Their relentless energy is a boon on the pitch.
In the decider against Myanmar, the winner takes all.
The 14 international matches as build-up to the qualifiers (Round 2) helped us immensely. Playing the host nation is always difficult. When you add the pressure of a ‘must-win’ game, the situation becomes even harder. But we have been preparing for this moment for a long time, we have been battle hardened. The squad stays positive. It will surely be tough. But easy was never an option for us.
How do you dissect Myanmar as opponents?
Myanmar are one of the best women’s teams in Asia. But like any other team, they have their strengths and weaknesses. We have to play to our strength and their weaknesses.
India have lost in the last two encounters against Myanmar.
They say third time is lucky (laughs). The last two matches were very close encounters where either team could have won. But this gives us all the more motivation and fuels us with a sort of vengeance. Anything is possible. In all our 14 international matches building up to this moment, we have been preparing for this moment, the next 90 minutes against Myanmar.