Biratnagar (Nepal): Heading into the SAFF Women’s Championship with an exposure of playing 11 international matches this year, the Indian team will kick off their title defence when they take on the Maldives in their opening Group B clash at the Sahid Rangsala Stadium, here on Wednesday.
“The matches have helped us prepare in the best possible fashion. The exposure tours helped us to improve on our strengths, while at the same time giving us much needed competitive match timing to work on our shortcomings,” India coach Maymol Rocky said.
Since January 2019, the Indian women have played friendly matches in Hong Kong and Indonesia and took part in the Turkish Women’s Cup in Turkey as well as the Hero Gold Cup in Bhubaneswar.
The preparatory process had begun in December 2018 in Cuttack and the team has been together ever since. All the preparation has been planned to keep in mind the AFC Women’s Qualifiers Round 2 (in April) as well as the SAFF Championship.
“I am thankful to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the government of Odisha and all other stakeholders who have made this possible,” Maymol said.
“Training and competing together for such an extended period will naturally help the team gel as a unit, and also help players improve their skills at an individual level. We are a young team and playing so many matches significantly harnesses their true potential,” she remarked.
The Indian women have remained unbeaten in 19 matches over the last 4 editions of SAFF Championship, winning the title on every occasion.
The last time the Indian women played the Maldives was at the group stage of the 2016 South Asian Games in Shillong where the two sides played a goal-less draw.
“I came on as a substitute in that match, and remember we attacked throughout the 90 minutes. But they were very stubborn in their defence,” winger Sanju, part of that match, recollected.
Maymol said: “As a team, we have to make sure that we seize the initiative early. We have worked on keeping our defensive shape, and we will go hard right from the kick-off.”
Winger Dangmei Grace echoed her coach and stressed the need to cut down on “silly mistakes.” “We have to stay alert and make sure we make no silly mistakes. The tournament is ours for the taking, and we need to get off to the best possible start,” she said.