Nigeria coach Thomas Dennerby talks up his teams’ chances ahead of the Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2018. The Super Falcons have won eight of the previous editions making them the most successful side in the history of the biennial championship.
Below are excerpts of the interview with Dennerby;
CAFOnline.com: You are the second expatriate to coach the Super Falcons after Dutchman Jo Bonfrere, how easy for you to leave your comfort zone in Europe and come to Africa?
Thomas Dennerby: No problems at all. I have been in this business for a long time (since 1989) and I’m aware of all the challenges that can show up. You need to be experienced to live in another culture and handle some issues you do not normally do.
How do you rate the performance of your team in the qualifier against Gambia last June?
First of all, our defending was outstanding, and they (Gambia) had only one scoring chance against us over the two games which was very good for us. The team really worked hard to stay compact and follow the match plan. Our attacking play was also good. I think we had more than 15 attempts in each game. The difference between the first leg and the second leg was that we were sharper when finishing in the second leg.
What are your thoughts about your opponents in Group B?
We have three good teams in the group. I have a good idea about the South African team. Honestly, I don’t have a good picture of Kenya and Zambia but we can go into the three matches with our good plans and organisation. We have to train well for the matches because we have not got a game since we played against the Gambia in our last qualification match. First we start with South Africa, a really tough game because we know that South Africa has played about seven games this year and have prepared very well and have improved. Kenya and Zambia are also improving their teams and are trying to come closer to Nigeria. Everyone is concerned about Nigeria; it is natural but we believe we can handle it. I think it will really be tough games and it is important not to underestimate any opponent and perform well in every game.
How will you assess your preparations ahead of the AWCON in Ghana?
So far we have a really good accommodation (the team is camped at the pristine Jubilee Chalets located in Epe suburb of Lagos State); we have good food and the pitch is okay and the training is okay. During the weekend, we had to let some players go and play for their clubs in the league but not everybody, so we are doing well. The foreign-based players have joined so we have two good weeks to plan and work very well before we arrive in Ghana for the AWCON.
With your experience over the years, what do you hope to achieve at the AWCON in Ghana since this is going to be your first major tournament with the team?
I have been to two World Cups; two European championships and Olympic Games with Sweden’s women national team, so I have the experience when it comes to big tournaments on how to work and how to show up. You must have plans for every possibility because sometimes you start well but finished badly or sometimes you could start badly and ended well. We have to make the players relax and focus on the next game without putting them under unnecessary pressure. Of course, we have 11 players on the field at a time and what should be the responsibility of each player is how to make my team better from my position. They just have to be relaxed to do their jobs and trust their teammates. There won’t be any problem if they have such attitude and mentality at the tournament.
What will be your ambition in Ghana?
Our ambition is to win the tournament but importantly to secure our ticket to the 2019 World Cup in France. Of course, we know it is never going to be easy because there is a big improvement from many teams; so it is important to have preparation if you want to win games.
From your interaction with the players, who will be your key players in Ghana?
Honestly, after the two games against Gambia, I think Amarachi Okonkwo was good. But we have talents in our team both in defence and the forwards. There is Asisat Oshoala and Desire Oparanozie and they both combined to score six goals against Gambia. They have to be in good form if they want to be successful in Ghana and we also have some young players knocking on the door and I hope this tournament will bring out some other stars.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I’m two-way minded. First of all, when you talk about defending it has to be very strict, because you absolutely have to know that you need to do and when to do it [when your team is moving you need to know; when we move the ball and where you need to be or how to press or adjust. of course, when it comes to attacking we need to get five or six different options in training so that we know when to move a particular way. When it comes to attack, we want the creativity of the individual players to show because they have to take the decisions on the field and decide which is the best option since I can’t do that from the bench.
Are you under any form of pressure going into this championship because everybody expects Super Falcons to win?
There is always pressure on the head coach and you have to live with that. I am 59 years now but I am lucky to have experience from two world cups, two Olympics, two European championships and as head coach for so many clubs as well as playing in the Champions League. I have won a lot and I know my own feelings; what can I do for the team before the game, during the game and so forth? But we can just focus on our jobs and not speculate too much; I think we are going to have a good tournament in Ghana.