Thomas Dennerby had time and again stressed on the importance of the matches against Vietnam and Uzbekistan in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 2.
“These are the teams that are on more equal footing with us, and we have to try and win both matches,” he had said after the Japan defeat.
The first of those challenges has arrived. Vietnam await the Blue Tigresses on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent at 15:30 IST. It’s a do-or-die situation for both sides. Like India, Vietnam also went down in their opening match on Thursday – a 0-1 loss to hosts Uzbekistan at the Bunyodkor Stadium. A win for either side will keep their Paris 2024 hopes alive, while a draw might be suicidal for both.
Vietnamese women’s football has soared to new heights in the recent past. They qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time after winning the play-offs at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India last year. The Mai Đức Chung-coached side also won their fourth straight Southeast Asian Games gold medal a few weeks before their World Cup sojourn in Australia and New Zealand. However, at the expanded 32-team competition, Vietnam lost all three matches (against the USA, Portugal and Netherlands) without scoring a goal.
Like India, Vietnam also conceded seven against Japan at the Asian Games in China last month, a defeat which knocked them out in the group stage. But that was a second-string Japanese team, which went on to win gold. Vietnam have brought more or less a similar contingent to Tashkent. India were also eliminated from the Asian Games after two narrow losses to Chinese Taipei and Thailand, and Dennerby believes Vietnam will pose a similar sort of challenge tomorrow.
“I think tomorrow’s game is going to be very similar to the ones at the Asian Games. I think the three teams apart from Japan here are quite even. Vietnam lost 0-1 to Uzbekistan. Hopefully, we have the best day tomorrow and on Wednesday (against Uzbekistan) as well.”
Playing against Japan in the first match was never going to be easy. Neither is picking yourselves up from the loss and preparing for the next game, but the Blue Tigresses have now left it behind and only have three points on their mind. “Of course, it was a little bit tough after the loss against Japan. We let a couple of goals too many. But we have to leave that now and look forward to tomorrow. We came here with the aim of being the runner-up and to do that, we definitely need to win.”
But after their loss, Vietnam need this win as much as India, and as such, it’s going to be one cracking affair at the 8,000-capacity Lokomotiv Stadium on the outskirts of the Uzbek capital.
India have faced Vietnam five times, losing four and drawing 1-1 in the last meeting in a friendly in Hanoi in 2019. Assistant coach Maymol Rocky, who was then the head coach, shared, “Back then against Vietnam, we played with almost a similar team. But we were young and most of the girls were new to the team. I think now we are in a better place since the girls have been playing for the national team for three to four years now.
“I think we have a better chance tomorrow to get our first win against them. They are ranked 34 but I feel that will not matter for tomorrow’s match. We are more mature and one step ahead now,” Rocky added.
Adding more insight on the Southeast Asian opponents, Dennerby said, “In one way, they are similar to Japan as they like to play the short passes. They play the ball over the field and have the quality to go central. They also love to send diagonal crosses in behind the defence line. The good thing for us is that they don’t do it with the exact same quality as Japan.”
Something Dennerby has regularly talked about recently is the mental side of things. Translating the confidence from the training pitch to the stadium on matchday is what’s required to take the Blue Tigresses’ game to the next level. Keeping your mind free and playing with a cool head is the Swede’s message to the girls ahead of the two important games.
“The most important thing is that we need to believe. Just play. It’s a football game. It’s not about life and death. You could see in the last game we didn’t play freely. We don’t have to go into any game with fear. Always respect your opponents but be fearless.
“We need to be ready to play the ball around in the team, and not just send long balls and lose possession. We need to be ready to play a good attacking game,” Dennerby concluded.