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AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers: 'Underdogs' India face former world champions Japan

Published at :October 26, 2023 at 3:59 AM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : AIFF )

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Japan had reached FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-final in summer

There are challenges, and then there are challenges. The Indian senior women's team, who had effortlessly trounced Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Women's Olympic Qualifiers Round 1 in April, will open their Round 2 campaign against one of the world's best, Japan. The clash with the former world champions will take place on Thursday, October 26, 2023, at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent at 15:30 IST. The match will be streamed live on

The Blue Tigresses landed in the Uzbek capital on Monday evening after a training camp in Abha, Saudi Arabia. With the weather not too dissimilar in Tashkent, which is only slightly cooler, and having played in Uzbekistan as recently as March, Thomas Dennerby and his side haven't taken too long to get settled. India were last in competitive action in the 19th Asian Games in China last month, losing both games to Chinese Taipei and Thailand, two higher-ranked teams. All teams in India's group in the Olympic Qualifiers (Vietnam and Uzbekistan are the others) also have higher rankings. But those are only numbers on paper, according to head coach Thomas Dennerby.

"Ranks are on paper. Matches are played on the pitch. Japan are one of the best in the world, but there is always a chance for a lower-ranked team to win the game. And if we have a good start, then we can make Japan a little bit nervous. So hopefully, my players will have a good day tomorrow," said the Swede at the pre-match press conference.

The Japanese women's team needs little introduction. The Futoshi Ikeda-coached side reached the quarter-final of the FIFA Women's World Cup in the summer, famously beating eventual champions Spain 4-0 in the group stage, before being eliminated by Dennerby's own nation Sweden. The Nadeshiko then won the gold medal at the Asian Games with practically their second-string team, while their first team thrashed Argentina 8-0 in a friendly.

So that's the mountain India have to climb, and captain Loitongbam Ashalata Devi is raring to face the challenge. "Obviously, the opponent has a better ranking than us, but we don't care about that. We respect the opponent, but we don't fear anyone. We have to fight for the win tomorrow," she asserted. The 30-year-old captain is among the senior-most players in the team, younger than only Ngangom Bala Devi.

The star striker made her India debut in 2005, the year in which Astam Oraon and Hemam Shilky Devi were born. Highlighting the good mix of youth and experience, Dennerby said, "We have players who played the FIFA U-17 World Cup. We have players from the U-20 team. And we have good experience also, with our captain and other girls. So it's a good mix of players - the young, hungry ones and the experienced, calm ones. Hopefully, we can show it on the pitch. We are really looking forward to some good games here."

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