If you fear Brazil, there is no point taking the field: Thomas Dennerby

Thomas Dennerby can sense the excitement in each member of the squad. “If I was in their place, I would have felt the same,” he says.

A battle with Brazil in Manaus beckons for the Indian women’s football team later this month, an unparalleled experience of rubbing shoulders with the 2007 World Cup finalists that includes stars like Marta and Formiga, the most capped player in Brazil’s history for whom it will also be a farewell game.

But India’s Swedish head coach wants it to be more than just an occasion. Building up to the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup at home next year, the 57th-ranked team has had exposure tours to UAE, Bahrain and Sweden. The Brazil sojourn, which also includes games against Chile (ranked 37th) and Venezuela (56th), is an important extension of that. Dennerby outlines its significance in this interview:

How would you describe the opportunity for India to play a powerhouse like Brazil?

It’s going to be good fun to play in Brazil. But more importantly, the girls will get to play at a high level. It will be a huge test of our defensive capabilities. No other team since I have arrived has tested our defence as much as Brazil will. They are a world class side, physical and technically supreme at the same time. Plus, they have stars like Marta and Formiga. But it’s not Brazil alone. Chile is another extremely technical side. The game against Venezuela will also be particularly tough for us. But at the same time with all the hard work we have been doing, we have raised our levels too.

How is the mood in the camp at the prospect of playing Brazil—one of excitement or a touch of nervousness?

Understandably, there’s excitement all around, and why not. For the first time in their lives, the girls will play against superstars of world football. This will be a huge experience for them. At the same time, it will be immensely tough. But that’s what we want. We need tough games to prepare for the AFC Asian Cup.

Playing a full-strength Brazilian team at their den could be intimidating even for the most seasoned of them. How do you ensure that the Indians aren’t? For example, when they line up against Marta on the field…

There needs to be respect for all opponents. And here we are speaking about Marta, possibly one of the greatest ever players. They may be ranked No. 7, and they are Brazil. But at the end of the day, we will be there to play football. If you fear them, there’s no point taking the field. This is an experience to play and learn at the same time. The learning curve will stay with Indian football forever. This is an opportunity to show the world that Indian women’s football has arrived.

As for Marta, we played against her when I was coaching Sweden. I also remember her playing in Sweden for some time. She has been one of the best in the last 10-15 years. When we meet her, we need to thank her for being the role model for football that she has been. She’s shown that you don’t need to quit football when you are 30-31.

In a match and tour like this where you’re playing teams a few levels higher, how much emphasis do you place on results and how much on the learning from it?

Right now, it’s all about adapting to the different playing styles against different opponents. That is why we have given a chance to so many different players in the squad. We will keep up with that in this tour, and in the future matches as well as we build up to the AFC Asian Cup. But of course, when we come to the Asian Cup games, we need to be more result oriented.

What are some key aspects that you’re looking to pick up from this tour?

We are trying to play with teams that are higher ranked than us, some that are at the same level and also some that are at a bit of a lower level than us. This will help us in developing different aspects of our game. When you play equal teams, you get the chance to work on the quick transitions, both offensive and defensive. When you play teams at a lower level, you get to work on your build-up play, and when you play against stronger opponents, you get to test your defensive approach. It is a culmination of all these that will help prepare us for the Asian Cup.

You have played different teams on a few exposure tours this year. How is the side shaping up for the continental event in a couple of months’ time?

We have been going step by step since we started working in August. I was very happy with our performance against Chinese Taipei (1-0 win). It sounds a bit strange, but we also played well against Tunisia, though we lost the game (1-0). We created around 10 chances and could not score, while they only had one shot on target, from a penalty. That’s football. But that is also a learning process for the girls. You don’t always win just because you are the better side. There is also something in there for passion, hard work and the fight that you put in.

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