Friday, May 20, 2022

Can India qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023? Here’s a detailed analysis

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The Indian national football team, the 106th ranked team in the latest FIFA Men’s Ranking, is getting ready to participate in the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification. In this article, we are talking about India’s chance to qualify for the next AFC Asian Cup in 2023.

AFC Asian Cup is always a big opportunity for the Asian national football teams. China will host the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2023 in June-July 2023. Just like the previous edition, a total of 24 teams will participate in this forthcoming continental tournament.

Earlier scenarios

India vs Afghanistan Twitter Indian football team
Credit: Twitter
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India automatically qualified for the second round of the AFC Asian Cup qualification due to their position among the top 34 AFC teams according to April 2019 FIFA World Rankings. That second round was also the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.

The Igor Stimac’s team India failed to qualify for the third round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification as they finished in the third position of the Group E points table in the second round of that qualification process. While the hosts Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were drafted in that group, Qatar and Oman finished as the top two teams in that points table with 22 and 18 points respectively.

However, India managed to qualify for the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification directly after finishing in the third position in the Group E points table with 7 points. In that round, the Blue Tigers managed to win once and drew four times, while they also suffered three defeats.

Process of the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification

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India will now host the Group D in the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification. Salt Lake Stadium (Kolkata) will host all these group stage matches between 8th June and 14th June 2022.

In this Group D, 147th ranked Hong Kong, 150th ranked Afghanistan and 171st ranked Cambodia will also fight with the hosts (all these FIFA Men’s rankings are based on 31st March 2022). The group stage will run in the single-leg format as each team will face every other team once. The match days of this Group D are:

8th June – Hong Kong vs Afghanistan; India vs Cambodia

11th June – Afghanistan vs India; Cambodia vs Hong Kong

14th June – Afghanistan vs Cambodia; India vs Hong Kong

The winners of this Group D will directly qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. On the other hand, the top five out of the six groups’ runners-up of this third round qualification will get the tickets for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

India’s recent form

Bahrain 2-1 India: Bahrain maintain unbeaten record over India with late winner
Via Twitter

India disappointed during the second round of this qualification. Though India fought well in that double-legged Group E competition against the better-ranked teams, hosts Qatar and Oman, they mostly underperformed against the lower-ranked teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The Blue Tigers had a goalless draw result against the hosts Qatar in that challenge but closely lost the other three matches against those high-ranked teams. In the meantime, the top-ranked SAFF team drew twice against Afghanistan and once against Bangladesh apart from the only win against Bangladesh by 2-0.

While India then won the SAFF Championship 2021 as the unbeaten side, they have already played two losing games in this calendar year.

Last March, the Igor Stimac’s side played two higher-ranked teams against the hosts Bahrain and Belarus in Bahrain. While the AFC team Bahrain beat them by 2-1, the UEFA side Belarus handed them a 3-0 defeat.

India’s preparation and chances

indian mens football team 2
Image Credit: Twitter

Before the beginning of the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification, the Blue Tigers will play another couple of international friendlies against Zambia and Jordan in Doha, Qatar in late this month.

Ahead of these crucial friendlies, India have started their preparation by experiencing two practice matches. While the Igor Stimac’s side suffered a 2-1 defeat against ATK Mohun Bagan on 11th May, they will now face the I-League Stars on 17th May.

As both CAF team Zambia and AFC side Jordon are the higher-ranked teams, India will get proper preparation ahead of the third round of the qualification.

Understanding the present situation, India should qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 comfortably. While they are favourite to finish on top of Group D, they can still comfortably qualify for the next AFC Asian Cup tournament if they finish in the second spot of Group D. Despite their recent performances not being strong enough, it is highly unlikely that they will finish below the top two positions in Group D. 

While India have comfortably better records against Afghanistan (won six games, drew thrice and lost once) and Cambodia (won thrice and lost once), their recent records against Hong Kong are highly worrying.

Though the Blue Tigers still have the upper hand against Hong Kong in the overall record book with seven wins, four draws and four defeats, they haven’t won in their last three games against this nation (drew once and lost the last two matches). In their last seven meetings against Hong Kong, the Blue Tigers managed to win only once, while their opposition managed to claim four victories (the other two had the draw results).  

Though their recent performances and recent records against Hong Kong can put the Indian team under pressure ahead of the third round of the AFC Asian Cup qualification, it can be still good news for the team. These pressures can help them to not sit in comfortable positions before the finishing of the third round.

As the constantly growing Indian team now can face challenges, they can guide the nation to the next AFC Asian Cup tournament.

The Blue Tigers will target to break a jinx

indian football team
Image Credit: Twitter

The 1964 AFC Asian Cup runners-up India have never experienced two consecutive Asian Cup tournaments. Apart from their tournament debut in 1964, the Blue Tigers experienced this continental tournament in 1984, 2011 and 2019 editions respectively.

While India just failed to experience their first knockout stage game in the AFC Asian Cup history in the last edition, they have a great chance to appear again in this tournament without taking a break. However, the Blue Tigers have to work very hard to fulfill this goal.    

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