BHUBANESWAR: The dream is over. With one match still to go in their group-stage campaign, the Indian team has bowed out of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup, without a point earned or even a goal scored so far.
But was it even an attainable or realistic dream to expect the Indian girls to go further in a competition that they qualified for only by virtue of being the hosts? And to add to that, the squad only had months to prepare for their first international competition, which also happens to be the biggest competition in the world for the agegroup. The frustration and disappointment in the voice of India coach Thomas Dennerby — a veteran in the world of women’s football — at the press conference after his wards’ 0-3 defeat to Morocco on Friday, said it all.
“It’s painful. It’s always painful to leave a World Cup after the group stage,” Dennerby said while later pronouncing, “I would say that football is a sport of skillfulness and we have a little bit more to do. That’s the truth.”
While the history of women’s football around the world is steeped in negligence and discrimination, the “little bit more to do” for India is in reality a long list of missteps that needs correction.
While the government and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) worked hard in retaining the hosting rights for the premier women’s tournament, AIFF showed no intent or vision in working towards a good show from the host country who were to play the best in the world.
“If you look at the team list for Morocco, five or six of the girls are playing in good academies in France, two in the Netherlands, one in Belgium and so on. They are already playing for really good academy teams and have been training for many years. And we had these five months to catch up with them,” the coach pointed out of their opposition on Friday.
In spite of the little training attained and very little match time apart from an exposure trip to Spain and the SAFF U18 Championships here, the girls did bring the game to Morocco in the first 50 minutes. But the first goal, early in the second half, dealt a blow to their confidence that they could not recover from.
After the match, some of the Indian players, too, acknowledged the creeping up of nerves for the team after that goal. It’s not hard to understand that since the Indians have been playing without a mental conditioning coach or psychologist, even though a sexual abuse allegation on their Spain trip had claimed the job of the then assistant coach Alex Ambrose.
To put it in perspective, every team at the FIFA competition is equipped with staff on that front with Germany coming with a conditioning team that exceeded their allowance for the same.
But the 16 or 17-year-olds with inadequate preparation donning the Indian jersey were given no such support as they were left to fend for themselves amidst the expectations of a billion-strong nation. The result is for all to see.


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By Dipak

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