India coach blames AFC for dashing team's hopes
Hindustan Times|January 27, 2022
Women's team coach Dennerby says Asia's apex football body was unprofessional in dealing with Covid outbreak in the squad
Rutvick Mehta

MUMBAI: Thomas Dennerby's time in India has involved working on two key tournaments. Both were hit by Covid-19 and how!

The 2020 U-17 FIFA World Cup was pushed back due to the pandemic while the senior team was pulled out of the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup due to a Covid outbreak in it. Dennerby will have a third crack in October this year when the U-17 World Cup is rescheduled. He hopes that, at least, will end better.

"Otherwise, they better send me home quickly, because then I'm probably the problem,” the head coach said with a laugh over a Zoom call on Wednesday.

Less than 72 hours after his India team was forced to withdraw after one Asian Cup game, Dennerby did smile at times during the interaction. It wasn't something he had been doing often lately. "Lying alone in the bed," said the 62-year-old Swede, "I had tears."

On Sunday, before the start of their second group game against Chinese Taipei, 12 India players tested positive leading to the team being scratched. As of Wednesday, Dennerby said, the number of infections has swelled to 19 players and six support staff.

Every player has spent the last few days isolating in their respective rooms of their Navi Mumbai hotel with the medical team checking on them. Dennerby has been sending words of motivation over WhatsApp texts instead of being in team huddles. In a long and successful coaching career with national teams and clubs, Dennerby, who himself is negative-"I don't know how!"-has never dealt with anything like this.

"Setbacks normally are a part of life when you're in sports. But not these kinds of setbacks," he said. “It's a painful moment."

What made it even more painful is the timing of it all. “We have been together for 150 days. Not a case. We have been working hard in camps for months. Not a case. We have travelled to different countries to play. Not a case. Now we come to the AFC bubble and ends up like this. An outbreak," Dennerby said.

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