FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup: Hosts India look to impress

India will make their World Cup bow when they take on the United States of America in the opening match of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.

The nation will witness its women’s team play on a global stage for the first time after they qualified for the tournament as hosts.

This will be the seventh edition of the competition that started in 2008 and will be the third occasion it is being staged in Asia.

The Indian side coached by Thomas Dennerby are in Group A alongside the United States of America, Morocco and Brazil.

Brazil and the USA are seasoned campaigners in this competition and are set to play in their sixth and fifth edition respectively, while Morocco like India are making their debut in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Two-time winners, North Korea which are the most successful team in the competition’s brief history have not qualified but past winners Spain, Japan and France are in the mix and will be among the favourites.

USA and Mexico who have finished as runners-up in the past will also be among those looking to win this competition.

Hosts India may be new at this level, but there is plenty of ambition among the group led by head coach Dennerby who is preparing his team for one challenge at a time.

"We have a team that we know can defend very well. Tomorrow, one thing that everyone should be able to see is how hard it will be to score against us. If we utilize the chances we create, we can come out with points. The USA will come as the favourites but it's all on paper. Our focus is on our game plan. If we have our best day and score an early goal, it will be good for us," the head coach said.

The Swedish coach is hoping the home advantage gives India an added boost.

"Home advantage is always there. Some girls can feel a little pressure if they see a large crowd in the stadium. However, it's on the pitch that everything will be decided and the outcome of the match will be determined,” he added.

India will be led by Jharkhand’s Astam Oraon who plays as a defender and has a bit of experience under the belt playing for the India U-18 side. Lynda Kom Serto will spearhead the attack for the home side and will look to bring her big-tournament displays to the fore having scored plenty of goals for India in previous age-group tournaments.

Naketa, Kajal, Nitu Linda and Babina Devi Nisham will be some of the other key players of the team who will be hoping to step up to the plate at the global level having put in impressive performances for their club or state sides.

"The team is excited to play against the USA and finally get the tournament started after training together for 6-7 months. Tomorrow is the day when we have to leave everything on the field. Our full focus is on the matches ahead and nothing else matters to us," Oraon said.

"We have to sleep and rest well. All the players are feeling strong physically and mentally. We have worked hard on our endurance levels through gym and running sessions. We will give our opponents a good fight,” she added.

Head coach Dennerby has set the team a primary target of reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup but they will have to deliver a strong performance in the group stage of the competition against much stronger teams but the Swedish head coach has belief in the team going into the competition.

India play USA in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday, before taking on Morocco on Friday and Brazil in their final group-stage match on Monday.

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