2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: How Indian football team can make it to Qatar
Come 5th September, the Indian football team, under new coach Igor Stimac, will begin another important campaign, the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.
Come tomorrow, the Indian football team will begin an all new campaign in their quest to be a part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup as the second round of qualifiers get underway.
In spite of the poor results at the Intercontinental Cup in July, the positive approach has given renewed hope to Indian football fans across the world. On top of that, having guided Croatia to the World Cup, head coach Igor Stimac knows what it takes to reach the top.
But just how difficult is it for the new gaffer and his troops to make it to Qatar?
The Qualification Process
Apart from hosts Qatar, a total of four direct slots and one inter-confederation play-off slot are available for AFC teams in the final tournament. The qualification process involves four rounds, the first two of which also act as the qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
The first round sees 12 teams in action, ranked 35th to 46th in Asia, from which six teams make it to the second round. By virtue of their newly-improved rank, India qualified for the second round directly.
In the the second round, India have been drawn in a tricky group alongside recently crowned AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar, Gulf champions Oman, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The five teams will face each other over two legs, home and away.
Now, from the second round — which will be played through April 2019 to April 2020 — the top team from each group and the four best second teams from all the groups will qualify for the third round.
Back in 2018, India had crashed out in this round after finishing bottom of the group which consisted of Iran, Turkmenistan, Oman, and Guam.
This year’s draw does seem relatively easier on paper but they need to get the better of higher-ranked Oman and Qatar. In fact, the Blue Tigers’ performance in the first two fixtures, Oman (home) and Qatar (away), could have a telling impact on the rest of their group games.
Winning the group will, of course, be a tough ask. However, should Qatar finish first or second in the group, the fifth best second placed team will go through to the third round. Consequently, finishing second in the group and progressing through as one of the best placed second teams will be definitely on the cards.
If India does make it to the third round — to be held from September 2020 to September 2021 — it will be a massive achievement in itself. In this round, the 12 teams who qualified from the second round will be divided into two groups. In each group, the six teams will play in a round-robin format over two legs. The top two teams from each of the two groups will qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup while the third best teams will proceed to the fourth round.
The fourth round, to be played in October 2021, will see the third-placed teams of each group from the third round facing off in home and away fixtures. The winner will represent AFC in the inter-confederation playoff round.
So, realistically, how far can India go?
While qualifying for the third round seems like a solid possibility, progressing further will be extremely difficult for Sunil Chhetri and co.
Going by the draw for the second round, India has a decent chance of making it to the third round. The Men in Blue have strong head-to-head records against both Afghanistan (India has six of the eight meetings) and Bangladesh (India has won 15 of the 28 meetings).
Against Oman, they have lost four and won one of the seven matches played between the two. However, their most recent meeting, which was in December last year, ended in a goalless draw.
If India does qualify, the task will only get tougher. The third round will see the best of the best in Asia taking on each other. The likes of South Korea, Japan, Iran will be the favourites to qualify directly. But if India can pull off a miracle and finish third in their group, they will have a fighting chance of making it to Qatar.
It does sound like a fantasy... India in the FIFA World Cup... but it’s not impossible.