Mumbai: The Indian football team arrived here for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup on Thursday, hours after its scheduled flight from Kochi training base was delayed.
Amid concerns caused by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese Taipei became the first team to arrive here for the continental tournament.
The delay in their flight from Kochi, the Indian team’s base since the return from the tournament-cum-exhibition tour of Brazil, also delayed the host country’s scheduled media session on Thursday evening.
Looking ahead to the tournament, India head coach Thomas Dennerby said: “This is the moment we have been preparing for over the past six months. We’ve had over 200 sessions, some matches against quality opponents in four countries, and now it’s time to implement all the things we’ve been working on.”
The 62-year-old Swede, who also previously coached the Swedish and Nigerian national teams, revealed that a pep talk with the players before leaving for Mumbai helped get everyone in the right mindset.
“We had a little meeting with the players and we explained to them how important the next few weeks are in their lives. I think this really struck a few chords, and you can see the determination in their eyes now,” he said.
The Indian team has been drawn against Iran (January 20), Chinese Taipei (January 23) and China (January 26) in Group A of the 12-team competition.
It has also been informed that all teams playing in Pune will arrive in Mumbai and then commute to Pune by road.
“We expect the first team to be in Pune, the Republic of Korea, on the 15th. The teams (who play in Pune) will stay in two luxury hotels in the city,” said a source who is aware of the developments.
All teams will remain in a strict bio-bubble and everyone involved in the tournament, including all players and officials, will undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
“All staff working in the hotel will also be in the bubble and will not have any physical interaction with anyone outside the bubble. The same goes for the drivers who will be with the team and AFC. They have also been given shelter,” the source added.
India will host the continent’s highest league for the first time since 1980 and a potential berth for the 2023 FIFA World Cup is at stake.
One of the venues where matches are held is the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi, on the outskirts of the city of Pune. It has hosted a plethora of international events in the past, including the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008.
The Balewadi Sports Complex, as it is popularly known in sports circles, was built in the 1990s and had also hosted the National Games. Whether tennis, rugby, football, boxing, athletics or basketball, the picturesque sports complex has hosted many memorable sporting events.
From the 2008 CWG Youth Games, when the stadium facilities received a facelift, to February 2020, the complex has hosted 36 international tournaments.
The most prominent of these is the Maharashtra Open ATP 250 WTA tennis tournament, which featured 50 international players.
The ATP tennis tournament took place here in 2019 and the tennis courts are also preparing to organize the marquee this year.
In 2017, the stadium hosted Davis Cup matches.
As for football, the stadium is set to host Asia’s big event, and the Group C matches would be played at the venue.
Previously it hosted the Federation Cup International Football tournament in 2010 and in 2011 it hosted the pre-Olympic football qualifier.
The pitch at the venue has been significantly upgraded to support modern football. New floodlights with LED panels have also been installed in the stadium, which would save a lot of power, a senior state government official said.
New training facilities were reconstructed for the tournament. Two additional practice fields have also been constructed to serve the teams and the team’s dressing rooms, hospitality areas and media stand have also been upgraded.
The old lamps have been moved to one of the practice fields, while LED lighting is installed on the other practice field.
Some of the other prominent tournaments that the complex has hosted include the 2009 Asian Junior Basketball Tournament, the 2008 World Junior Badminton Championship, the Asian Kickboxing Championship.
The complex has also hosted the Khelo India Games.
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