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AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022: We are aiming to reach quarterfinals says Indian captain Ashalata Devi

Indian captain Ashalata Devi feels doing well in the AFC Women's Asian Cup will depend on how well the team absorbs the pressure

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Ashalata Devi

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PTI

Updated: 2022-01-14T21:14:09+05:30

Indian captain Ashalata Devi feels doing well in the AFC Women's Asian Cup will, to a large extent, depend on how well the team absorbs the pressure as it aims a quarterfinal berth and a historic World Cup qualification. The tournament will be held in three venues across Maharashtra from January 20 to February 6. The event provides teams with a chance to earn qualification to the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

"There is pressure to perform in every tournament and I believe you cannot play without it," Ashalata said. "It is how you handle it that matters and we have learnt to deal with it." Even as the four semi-finalists earn a direct slot to the next women's World Cup, all the losing quarterfinalists will make it to the continental play-offs for the last possible slot from Asia. The Imphal-born defender is raring to play on the big stage ever since she heard that India was hosting it.

"It was always a dream to represent India in such big tournaments and we are aiming to qualify for the quarterfinals and create history by qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup," asserted Ashalata. Having been a part of the national set-up for over a decade, Ashalata was nominated for the AFC Women's Player of the Year in 2019. Over the same years, she has played with Indian football legends like Oinam Bembem Devi but she refused to compare her current team-mates with previous ones.

"I cannot say that this is the best squad I have been a part of until we play in the tournament," she told the AIFF. "It is how you perform in that tournament which matters and that is what would make it the best." She put emphasis on the "strong bonding" that has developed between the younger players and the senior ones ahead of the continental tournament. "When I was a young player in the team, I used to ask the senior players a lot of questions," she said.

"If we don't share and communicate, the bonding never develops. So we make it a point to talk to each other often. "Even if I am not the best person to deal with a particular matter, I will direct them to the best person to solve it," added Ashalata. India have been drawn against Iran (January 20), Chinese Taipei (January 23) and China (January 26) in Group A of the competition. The top two from each of the three groups, along with the two best second placed teams from the groups will make it to the quarterfinals.

The official squad of 23 has as many as 15 players under the age of 25 with the average age of the team being 23.13, and Ashalata has taken the lead in integrating them into the squad. "We are guiding the young players on and off the field, sharing our experiences, giving tips and advising them on how to maintain professionalism," stated Ashalata. "The youngsters coming through are comfortable with us and that will help them perform better."

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