2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Odisha's Kalinga Stadium to host India-Qatar in March
Will the Blue Tigers get a packed stadium when they take the field against Asia's mightiest?
As per reports, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has earmarked the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha to host India's return leg match against Qatar next year.
Apparently, several venues had expressed their interest to host the high-profile clash against the reigning Asian champions on 26th March 2020. However, the AIFF has reportedly reached an agreement with the Odisha government to play host.
"We have an understanding with the Odisha government and they are very keen to host this match. It's a good venue. We have no reason to deny them the opportunity," a senior AIFF official was quoted by the Times of India.
Odisha's brand new stadium, the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar has hosted several domestic matches in recent times. It has played host to the Indian Super Cup, it has been the home ground for AIFF's development side Indian Arrows. Kalinga Stadium was also the first venue to get the provisional nod to host the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2020.
Most recently, it was announced that the stadium will be the home ground of new Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Odisha FC, formerly Delhi Dynamos FC.
However, the decision to host the India-Qatar match at the Kalinga Stadium has raised a few eyebrows.
Is Kalinga Stadium the right choice?
While there is no doubt about the stadium's credibility in terms of infrastructure, the 15,000-capacity has raised some questions. Many believe that Kolkata or Kochi, with their larger stadiums and more football-loving population, would have been a better choice for the all-important home match.
Qatar are currently one of the strongest teams in Asia. It took a mammoth effort from the Indian defence and stand-in captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to deny them a win in the first leg in Doha and next time around, they would be hungrier for the three points. In such a match, a huge vociferous crowd could play a big role in the eventual result.
Moreover, no international football match has ever been hosted in Bhubaneswar. The I-League and Super Cup matches that have been played at the Kalinga Stadium has seen below average attendance.
On the other hand, the Kalinga Stadium did see unprecedented footfall during the 2018 Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup, even in matches in which India did not feature. Odisha is known to have a sporting culture and, the people of the state have always backed teams across various sports. Moreover, from what we have seen so far it can be assumed that the Odisha government will leave no stone unturned to ensure a packed stadium.
Will the Blue Tigers get a huge crowd to cheer them on when they take the field against Asia's mightiest?
Only time will tell.