The Blue Tigresses are a young and hungry bunch, ready to pounce, as the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 looms large on the horizon. Head coach Thomas Lennart Dennerby announced the final list of 23 players that would be representing the tricolour on the continental stage, and it contains as many as 15 players under the age of 25.
Indeed, looking at the progression of the players in the squad, one can see batch after batch of them coming through from the U-19 Women’s Team to the Senior Women’s Team, thus pushing the average age of the entire squad down to 23.13.
Captain Ashalata Devi and goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan were in the U-19s almost a decade ago; the likes of Dalima Chhibber, Dangmei Grace, Ratanbala Devi, Sweety Ngangbam, and Pyari Xaxa came through from the U-19 squad under then head coach Priya PV in 2014; Manisha Kalyan, Renu Rani, and Sowmiya Narayanasamy played in the U-19 side in 2018 under head coach Alex Ambrose, and finally, the most recent batch of U-19 girls who recently played in the U-19 side – Shilky Hemam, Priyangka Devi, Mariyammal Balamurugan, and Sumati Kumari under Ambrose as well.
Now, with Priya PV and Ambrose assisting Indian Women’s Team head coach Thomas Dennerby as part of the technical staff, the Blue Tigresses look to move forward together.
Captain Ashalata Devi feels that the steady flow of young blood into the team helps ensure that the energy of the entire squad remains high.
“It’s always good to have younger players come into the team. They bring in new energy and new ideas. As women’s football grows, we can see that many youngsters come with certain knowledge that even the experienced players like myself learn from, so it’s always a healthy exchange, between the others,” said Ashalata to the-aiff.com.
Full-back Dalima Chhibber outlined the importance of the youth teams programme at AIFF, that has helped maintain a steady supply of players into the senior team.
“It’s really good to see all these young players come through every couple of years to the senior team. When you have a handful of players from almost every batch of junior teams over the last 10 years, that really shows how crucial a role the juniors programme is to the senior team,” said Chhibber.
“I can certainly say that the latest batch of U-19 girls that have come through, are better than what we were in our U-19 days, and that’s exactly how it should be. It shows that Indian Football is moving forward together,” she added.
Manisha Kalyan, who has, in the last couple of years, dished out some memorable performances for the Senior Women’s Team, states that the atmosphere within the Blue Tigresses’ camp is one of bonding and sisterhood, and that the experienced bunch of players are always ready to help the younger ones.
“There’s no seniors or juniors on the pitch. We are all the same, each of us a brick in the wall for the Indian Women’s Team. But it is off the pitch where the experience of the seniors really helps us. They guide us in various aspects on how to do different things, how to be disciplined and so on,” said Manisha. “That helps everyone become better players.”
Hemam Shilky Devi, who had captained India at the U-17 and the U-19 levels, and is now a part of the senior team, feels that their time in junior football helps prepare the players from both a technical and tactical standpoint, once they move into the senior side.
“We have learned so much about the technique of football in the junior teams. I myself have played as a midfielder, a striker, and also as a defender in various age group stages, and that has helped me understand the requirements of all these positions. So now it also helps me understand where my teammates would move on the pitch,” she said.
The Blue Tigresses will head to Mumbai on Thursday, January 13 for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, where they will face IR Iran (January 20), Chinese Taipei (January 23) and China PR (January 26).