Super Falcons head coach Thomas Dennerby says the Falcons “want to win the tournament” but that his “absolute most important of all” goals for the 2018 African Women Nations Cup in Ghana is ensuring that the Falcons qualify for the 2019 FIFA women World Cup in France.
The 2018 AWCON kicks off on the 17th with the three best placed teams at the end of the championships qualifying for the world cup and Dennerby, who has set a semi-final target for the girls, says securing world cup qualification is his main priority and not necessarily winning the trophy.
“It is true that I said first place come the semifinals,” Dennerby said in an exclusive chat with busybuddiesng.com. “But of course when we go to the tournament we want to win the tournament, but the main goal, the absolute most important of all is to go through to the world cup next year in France.”
The Falcons may have won the AWCON in its present iteration a record 8 times out of 10 (10 if you include all iterations of the championships before it became a biennial event in 1998) and are rightly considered overwhelming favourites for this one, but Dennerby would rather not fuel expectations or look too far ahead preferring instead to – as he puts it – “focus on the right things“.
‘If we have a good performance we also have a really good chance to bring home the cup,” Dennerby says. “But first of all play your three games in the group play, do a good performance and then we see what happens next who is it to play and then we take it one game and then the next game.
“So we can’t start thinking about final already because if you do that you probably forget to be focused on the group matches and that is the difference. I don’t talk about the final because we have not passed through the group play yet, we have to focus on the right things”.
Nigeria have been paired with perennial rivals South Africa in Group B alongside lesser lights Kenya and Zambia and Dennerby admits to not knowing much about the two less heralded teams that could prevent him from reaching his target of a semi-final place but says he is relying on videos of their matches to help give himself and the team an idea of what to expect and how to prepare.
“I know more about South Africa because I went to Cyprus to see them four times this Spring,” says the Swede. “But for the moment now I don’t know that much about Zambia and Kenya but we have videos in [the] computer so we can start to see them and prepare the players and ourselves about the playing style and so on.’’
Even as preparations at the Jubilee Chalets and Resorts camp of the Falcons get more intense following the arrival of a host of foreign-based based players, there still remains amongst the technical crew, a hint of frustration about the lack of preparatory matches for the girls especially as all their Group B opponents have already secured friendly matches ahead of the tournament. The Falcons haven’t played a football match since they beat Gambia six nil in an AWCON qualifier in June – over four months ago and Dennerby isn’t quite sure how the inactivity will affect his players.
‘’We really don’t know yet,’’ he says about the impact a lack of preparatory games will have on his players. ‘’We will play against boys [Dominion Hotspurs] on Thursday and we also have other plans. We are for the moment negotiating with another country to maybe go there and play two friendlies, so we’ll see what happens.’’
Having originally named a 48 woman list comprising 19 foreign-based players and 29 players from the domestic league, the coach has since whittled the home-based contingent down to the 15 players that stand the best chance of making the final cut of players to the AWCON. So, would he be open to revealing the home-based players who will definitely make the squad?
“Of course I can do it,” Dennerby says with a smile, “but I will not because the first time to know if they are in or not is the players, but of course there’s a couple of players from the domestic league that have a good chance to make it all the way to the final squad so if they just keep working hard now at camp this week they have a good chance when we pick the final squad on the 4th”