While the other contestants from Group A – Brazil and Morocco – took to practice at the other ground on the same premise, their opponents in Tuesday’s opener, the US, took over in an evening session at the same venue.
It is a formidable group that the hosts have been drawn into and Dennerby’s stress upon his wards’ defensive training revealed the challenge that has been thrown at the Indians. Having conceded 20 goals in the last six matches – with Brazil and the US having netted 33 and 58 times, respectively – the hosts’ defensive woes could hit them hard in the group stage of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup.
Adding to their test at hand will be the presence of some of the most promising young footballers in the world in their opposing ranks. While the US attack will be boosted by the presence of Amalia Villarreal and Riley Jackson – the joint-highest goal scorer in their World Cup-qualifying CONCACAF U17 Championship campaign and the best player at the same, respectively – as well as Taylor Suarez, the world awaits the arrival of Ingrid Aparecida Borges de Moraes or ‘Jhonson’ who fired nine goals during Brazil’s qualifying campaign.
To stem the attacking challenge, India will bank on their captain and young Jharkhand defender, Astam Oraon. “We have a very strong bonding within the team because we have been together for the last seven months. We are well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s a great thing,” Astam had said.
While seven months might seem long in the uncertain times of Covid, that not just saw the tournament postponed twice but also led to the selection of varied batches of players, Dennerby had been forced to select the current bunch from the sub-junior tournaments as the likes of Priyangka Singh Naorem, Mariyammal Balamurugan and others from his last selection are over 17 now.
The Swede’s primary source of scouting was the SAFF U-18 Championship in Jamshedpur that India won by beating Bangladesh in March. The Golden Boot winner and MVP from the tournament, who scored five goals including a hat-trick, Manipur’s Lyn-da Kom Serto, will hope to be the trump card for India with her scoring prowess.
“I always want to score more goals than I did in the last game. It’s not always possible, but it’s a good aim to work on,” Lynda said after India’s maiden trophy of the tournament.
Earlier this week, Dennerby said the team had gained a lot from the recent exposure tours and were “mentally and physically ready” for the World Cup. However, he also added, “It’s not only about the result now. It’s about the performance to show that Indian girls can play football.”
With just a day left for the FIFA competition to kick off in India, it’s not long for the verdict to be delivered.