Tough days at the office have been aplenty for the Indian women’s team this year. The two wins in the first round of the Olympic Qualifiers in Kyrgyzstan seem like a distant memory now. But in sports, there cannot be room for stagnancy. Four losses in a row since then have left the squad desolate. The Vietnam defeat on Sunday was perhaps the one which bothered the most.
The general feeling is that despite the heavy loss to Japan in the first match, there were some things which went right. But those things could not be repeated on Sunday, in a game where there were more expectations from India to get a result. Obviously, the biggest blunders were made while defending crosses. Three crosses, three headed goals for Vietnam. Three different circumstances, according to head coach Thomas Dennerby. But commonly, each one of those could’ve been avoided.
“We let in the goals without any aerial duels and that is the biggest problem. It’s three different situations – first from a mistake in the build-up, second from bad positioning, third from a bit of a goalkeeper mistake. So, it’s hard to say that it’s the same problem in each and every situation, but of course, we should have handled it better, whatsoever,” he said.
Like the second half against Japan, India conceded an early goal at the start of the first half versus Vietnam. Again, from an error in the build-up. “In the first minute, we made individual, technical, and unforced errors to let Vietnam score the first goal. Then we tried to go on and it was a very equal game in the first 20 minutes. But then we made another mistake, from which we couldn’t come back,” Dennerby described.
The experiments did not pay off. Bala Devi in midfield, Anju Tamang out wide, Soumya Guguloth centre forward, while Ritu Rani had to play right-back in the absence of the injured Dalima Chhibber. The second-half substitutions somewhat changed things for the good. Sandhiya Ranganathan, who scored twice against Kyrgyz Republic in April, coolly headed past the goalkeeper from Ritu’s hopeful free-kick to pull one back for India. Renu and Dangmei Grace brought fresh energy and speed on the right flank, but it was too late to spark any comeback.
“We were fighting a lot in the last 15 minutes. We scored a goal. The team was lifting and we were fighting to come closer and so on. But I think in the end, it’s probably a fair result. But what’s not good is that three short players scored three headed goals against us,” said the Swede.
“Our positioning is not good enough. We have been practising in training and also showing on the tactical board that if you miss your position they will definitely hurt you,” he added.
But whatever the case, you always look at the positives as well. Despite conceding 10 goals in two games, Dennerby singled out a few things to his liking, mainly the organisation and individuality.
“We are well-organised, so that is not a problem. But even with that, it’s always up to the individual to fulfil your role in that organisation. Maybe you get away if you play a weaker team that can’t utilise your mistakes. But when it comes to this level, you need to play 90 minutes without making any mistakes. Definitely not around your own box if you talk defensively.
“Individually, some players have been playing well. It’s good to have players who can reach this level. But we need to do it with 11, it’s not good enough if only three or four are catching up to the level that our opponents are,” he said.
What’s done is done. Up next is Uzbekistan. The Paris dream may be over, but there’s still a competitive match to play. If you go out, you go out with honour, which is what Dennerby wants from the Blue Tigresses. Motivation can seem hard to kindle in such circumstances, but the India jersey should alone act as fuel for the last match. The end of this qualifying tournament is the start of the next cycle.
“Putting on the India shirt and playing for the nation should be enough motivation. Hopefully, girls feel that we need to play for our reputation. So yeah, we really need to show that we can and want to win a game,” said Dennerby.
“It’s important to leave the camp with a win that helps a lot for motivation for the future also. We have our honour to play for. So, I hope that the girls understand that even though we are out of the Olympics, this game now is a start for the future.”