“The real test begins now” stays the common phrase on everyone’s lips ahead of India’s first-match in the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers against Myanmar.
On the surface, there’s a difference of five places – Myanmar stay on 46 on the FIFA Rankings while India are 51. Will it prove decisive?
“The real test begins now,” stays the common phrase again.
After a brief pause, coach Anadi Barua maintains: “This match will decide our fate. We need a good start. The first match always sets the tone.”
He adds: “We start from scratch on Tuesday evening. No pressure and no permutation and combinations. This is to me the most important game. We need to approach it as if it’s the decider.”
In a way, it is also a decider between the two Nations. Not long ago, the Indian Men’s Senior Team were knocked out of the AFC Challenge Cup by Myanmar while back home, I-League club East Bengal returned the favour by drubbing Myanmar club Yangon United 5-1 to qualify for the AFC Cup quarterfinals few days ago.
India come into the tournament winning a double header against Bahrain in Manama. The two victories in the international friendlies have boosted the confidence of the team for sure.
Add to that, India have been in good form of late winning the SAFF Championships for the second consecutive time last year and then getting the better of a combined Dutch team in one of the exhibition matches played in January this year in Navi Mumbai.
“I would not like to read too much into the friendlies but the victories, especially the second one, was a morale-boosting one. It also gave me a chance to asses my team’s strengths and weaknesses. The one-month camp is Pune helped too. You need to have the entire bunch together for a long period before such an important tournament,” Barua opined.
“We have very little idea about India. All I can say is the first match is always very important. We have been training hard and are confident of pulling off a good show come the morrow,” Barua’s counterpart Yoshinori Kumada added.
India’s best performance in the AFC Cup Final Round was back in 1997 when they finished fifth. The 51st Ranked side last played in the Finals back in 2003. The Qualifiers came into existence from 2006. Prior to that, teams were directly seeded in the Finals.
On both the occasions, former captain Oinam Bembem Devi was part of the team.
“We have a good team. We have been together for some time now and the chemistry between players is excellent. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The wins against Bahrain helped too. Now starts the real challenge. No team will come easy and we have to be at our best every time,” Bembem said.
Out of the 16 teams vying for a place in the finals, only four will make the cut to Japan next year from the Qualifiers. The other four seeded outfits are defending champions Australia, World Champions and hosts Japan, South Korea and China.
The match starts at 22.30 PM IST / 19.00 CET / 18.00 GMT.
(Edited AIFF Press Release)