India women's football team captain Ashalata Devi has said that her team is aiming to qualify for the quarterfinals of the upcoming 2022 Women's Asian Cup and create history by securing a qualification berth for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
The tournament will be held in three venues across Maharashtra from January 20 to February 6. 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. Even as the four semi-finalists earn a direct slot to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, all the losing quarterfinalists make it to the play-offs for 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," said Ashalata in an AIFF release.
Having been a part of the national set-up for over a decade, Ashalata was even 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. It is how you perform in that tournament which matters and that is what would make it the best," she said.
"There is pressure to perform in every tournament and I believe you cannot play without it. It is how you handle it that matters and we have learnt to deal with it," she added.
The Indian 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 the skipper 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. The youngsters coming through are comfortable with us and that will help them perform better," stated Ashalata.
The 28-year old also put emphasis on the "strong bonding" that has developed between the younger players and the senior ones ahead of the Women's Asian Cup.
"When I was a young player in the team, I used to ask the senior players a lot of questions. If we don't share and communicate, the bonding never develops. So we make it a point to talk to each other often," said Ashalata.
"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," she added.