Excited to play against Brazil, but focus firmly on Asian Cup preparation, says India footballer Sanju Yadav

‘For the first time, we are going to play Brazil. Both their men and women’s teams play in World Cup, so we want to play against them,’ says Sanju Yadav.

Sanju Yadav during Indian women’s football team camp. Image: AIFF

No Indian senior football team has ever played a match against powerhouse Brazil. But it’s all set to change on 26 November when the Indian women’s football team takes the field at Manaus.

India will be going against the World No 7 team in their own backyard in an international tournament which is part of the exposure tour for the national team’s preparation for the forthcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022.

Ashalata Devi and Co will also be playing against Chile and Venezuela on their South American tour and it will also be the first time any Indian national team will be playing against either of the two nations.

Needless to say that the mood in the Indian camp is upbeat at the prospects of facing the 2007 World Cup runners-up. The Brazilian side includes heavyweights like six-times Ballon d’Or winner Marta, Adriana and Duda. The India game will also be the farewell match for legendary midfielder Formiga.

The Indian players, however, know that the Brazil match, historic as it may be, is just one more opportunity to prepare for the Asian Cup which will be hosted at home. World No 57 India will be playing in the Asian Cup for the first time since 2003. They are excited to go toe to toe with their idols, but the focus is firmly on learning.

“We are excited, no doubt. For the first time, we are going to play Brazil. Both their men and women’s teams play in World Cup, so we want to play against them and want to learn the good things from them,” India midfielder Sanju Yadav told Firstpost. “I don’t follow their matches regularly but I have been watching Marta’s video from time to time, to see how she plays. Even Chile and Venezuela have some very good players. We are hoping for good games. Our focus, however, is on our own game and on how we can improve further.”

India coach Thomas Dennerby had shared similar sentiments in his address to the media before the team left for Brazil.

“This tour and everything we have been doing in the past two months is about the preparation for the AFC Women’s Cup which kicks off in January. It is all about finding out whether we are doing the right things on the pitch and evaluate our performances in each and every department,” Dennerby had said.

“We are going to play three good quality games now, the first game against Brazil will be important. The second game against Chile and the third game which will be against Venezuela, both are good teams but not at the level of Brazil. The most important thing is to come home with three good performances and nothing else.”

Before the South American tour, India travelled to the Middle East and Sweden to test their mettle. They took part in four matches in the UAE and Bahrain, winning against UAE (4-1), Bahrain (5-0) and Chinese Taipei (1-0) and losing to Tunisia (1-0).

They played two matches in Sweden against clubs Hammarby (lost 3-2) and Djurgarden (1-0).

Dennerby, who has earlier coached Sweden and Nigeria, was appointed India coach in August this year, taking over the reins from Maymol Rocky who had a four-year-long stint.

Talking about the transition from training under an Indian coach to a Swedish tactician, Sanju said, “A lot has changed since he came in. Our game plan, playing style, our practice methods have also changed. From defending, attacking, passing, shooting, we are having multiple sessions on all aspects. Our playing style and formations have changed and we are liking it.”

The Asian Cup will begin on 20 January, and given the paucity of time and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the footballing calendar, Dennerby is trying to great a squad of flexible players who can easily switch places on the field giving the team an advantage.

“We are trying out different formations in the training ground so that players can be flexible for two-three positions,” said Sanju who began her footballing journey from her school village in Alakhpura, Haryana.

“At the very beginning, our focus was mostly on fitness but now we have progressed and have started working on other aspects like strengthening, technical gameplay, running. We are making planned progress on all aspects.”

India have been drawn in Group A of the 2022 Asian Cup alongside China (FIFA ranking 17), Chinese Taipei (40) and Iran (72). China have won the continental showpiece on record eight occasions while Chinese Taipei have two titles to their name. The top two teams from three groups and the two best third-placed teams will qualify for the quarter-finals.

Tough draw no doubt but Sanju is in no mood to get ahead of herself. Her mantra is to stay in the present and prepare well for what lies in the future.

“Our focus is completely on our training. All three teams are solid sides and we will have good games. We respect all the teams,” signed off Sanju.


November 26: Brazil vs India, 6.30 AM IST kick-off.
November 29: India vs Chile, 2.30 AM IST kick-off.
December 2: India vs Venezuela, 2.30 AM IST kick-off.

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