"Everybody is focused on one big goal at the moment" - Indian footballer Dalima Chhibber opens up on recent results, the AFC Asian Cup and more

Indian footballer Dalima Chhibber in action.
Indian footballer Dalima Chhibber in action.
Anantaajith Ra

Indian women's team footballer Dalima Chhibber believes the team are completely focused on the AFC Asian Cup as the much-awaited showpiece event draws closer.

Dalima has been part of an Indian team that has been in tremendous form in recent times. The Blue Tigresses have collected victories against UAE (4-1), Bahrain (5-0) and Chinese Taipei (1-0), while losing to Tunisia (0-1). They have also traveled to Sweden and taken on top-flight clubs Hammarby and Djurgarden.

While both matches ended in narrow defeats, the exposure gained from these tours has been invaluable for India. Moreover, the very fact that the Indian team has gotten the opportunity to play these games is worth cheering about.

Full time at the Stadion and credit to @DIF_Fotboll for hanging on to their lead in the second half.Been a good couple of games with some much-needed game time and experience for the Indian side.Thanks to @IndianFootball for the stream. #HerGameToo #WomensFootball

Dalima believes the levels of exposure are one of the major changes now in comparison to when she joined the senior team in 2016. She also believes more young players have made it into the Indian squad and that there have also been substantial improvements in fitness.

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the 24-year-old said:

"I feel like from the time I joined the senior team in 2015, a lot has changed. First of all, now the team that we have is a lot younger, so the average age of the team has gone down. The team is a lot fitter now and there are a lot more exposures, we are going to [more] tournaments. It's all thanks to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for giving us these opportunities even in this unfortunate time."

Dalima also feels the nature of the opposition India have come up against bodes well for the side regardless of the result.

"We are getting the opportunities to go out and play against tough opponents, so I feel a lot has changed in that manner in having the younger players and the fitness levels have definitely gone up. Our performances in Sweden and against better teams like Chinese Taipei and the rest of the teams as well has reflected on how the team is growing better and how the team is coming together, working hard, pushing each other to do better."

She also spoke on the impact of the tactics deployed by coach Thomas Dennerby, who only took over the Indian side a few months ago. Dalima believes the games India have played have helped the squad understand what is required of them as the 2022 AFC Asian Cup draws closer.

"I feel like with the change in coaching philosophy, in training, a lot has changed and the girls are confident, they are working hard everyday, everybody is putting their best foot forward whether it is on the field or off the field. Everybody is focused on one big goal at the moment, which is to do well in the upcoming Asian Cup and hopefully qualify for the FIFA World Cup."

The right-back added that there has also been more focus on aspects outside of the 90-minute matches that this Indian side have benefitted from. Dalima also believes the same aspects could shape how the women's game develops in the future.

"The opportunities are a lot more, there's a lot more exposure, playing time. There's also a lot more focus on different aspects of the player - whether it's nutrition, strength, conditioning, the technical aspect - and that is in turn changing the state of women's football in India."

"It has been a great experience" - India's Dalima Chhibber on the recent exposure tours

Dalima Chhibber believes India's matches against the Swedish clubs, Chinese Taipei and Bahrain have helped the team better understand their roles in Dennerby's system. She added that the team is now more confident.

"We're all working on a new philosophy under a new coach, Mr Thomas Dennerby and I feel like these six teams and six matches have allowed us to reflect on this new style of playing. With the performances, I feel we've become more confident in playing and we've been able to adapt to the new style of play and (we have been) playing against the teams we will be playing at the upcoming Asian Cup."

Dalima also felt youngsters receiving opportunities has been an important feature over the course of the last few matches.

"We've come back together after six months and during these times, getting these games has been so important because we have a lot of juniors joining the team, lot of upcoming players in the national team who are getting chances. I think everybody getting a chance to play in these exposure tours has been important, to get that experience, to reflect on the performances individually and as a team and to work together going ahead, building up to the Asian Cup."

If you don't have control over your mind, it hampers your ability to make sound decisions: Dalima Chhibber on the role of sports psychology

Dalima Chhibber is also a student of sports psychology in Canada, where she represents the Manitoba Bisons. When questioned about the role of sports psychology in football, the Indian right-back answered that it was a crucial component in any sport.

"Sports psychology definitely helps because ultimately, even if you are physically very fit, very strong and you can run around with the ball, if you don't have control over your mind, you become anxious, nervous. It hampers your ability to make sound decisions in the game."

She added that the pace of professional sport barely gives players any time to make decisions. In such a scenario, a calm mind is invaluable.

"Not only football, but in sports (in general) you're given only a fraction of seconds to make a decision. The ball comes to you about 90-100 times in a 90-minute game and you have to make those decisions in less than a second. If that ability of making decisions is hampered, it can lead to bad performances and I think having a cool mind, being calm and being ready to play a game is very important."
Hard work, grit and determination ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ @IndianFootball .#shepower #backtheblue #Asiandream #indianfootball #indianfootballforwardtogether

Dalima also believes being mentally "steady" will translate to better physical performance. She also referred to her time in Canada as her team, the Manitoba Bisons, had employed a sports psychologist to help the team.

"If mentally, you're not steady, then physically your body cannot coordinate and make sound decisions by itself. So for me, sports psychology is very important and I have seen the difference when I went to Canada."

Dalima added:

"There, sports psychologists used to do certain activities because it could be an important or tough match we would have the next day and he would do some relaxation exercises with us the day before. That helped us a lot, helped us get control and a hold of our thoughts, our ideas and just imagine, on the field, what we would be doing and provided us with confidence."

The Indian right-back believes the question of sports psychology has not been spoken about enough within the Indian sporting arena. However, Dalima pointed to other teams such as the Swedish women's national team that finished third in the 2019 FIFA World Cup.

"Sports psychology is very important. It is not addressed in India as yet, but there are teams who are adapting to the need of the sports psychologist. In 2019, the Swedish national team reached the semifinals and won the bronze medal. The only difference they made (from before) was having a sports psychologist in the team. That, for them, changed the entire scenario because for them to have that confidence and to believe in themselves was a game-changer."

Dalima Chhibber and the Indian team will certainly be followed with keen focus as we edge closer and closer to the 2022 AFC Asian Cup.

Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule


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