With the AFC Asian Cup 2019 knocking at the door, the preparations of the 24 nations are in full swing. After a gap of 8 years, India will be finally taking part in the continent’s biggest football spectacle. India’s last appearance was not a very memorable one in which the ‘Blue Tigers’ lost each of their group matches against quality sides like Australia, Bahrain, and South Korea.
Unlike last time, India has a much-improved side traveling to the United Arab Emirates in January next year. India is clubbed alongside Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE in Group ‘A’ of the competition and has a higher chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
But is India preparing enough to compete at the mega event?
There’s no doubt that the Indian football team has shown immense improvement in the past few years and has broken into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings. The Stephen Constantine led side convincingly won the matches during the qualifiers, but it will be a different ball game when they take on the top-ranked Asian countries in the main rounds. India’s record has been pretty good of late but the fact is they haven’t faced enough higher ranked teams. It is high time India starts doing that, especially with such a big ticket tournament approaching.
The All India Football Federation had lined up a few International friendlies ahead of the AFC Asian Cup. Sunil Chhetri and Co. produced a clinical display last month when they played out a 0-0 draw against China in their own den. However, India suffered a 1-2 loss against Jordan a few days ago. Apart from these two, India is scheduled to play Oman on December 27, just 10 days before the AFC Asian Cup kicks-off.
Playing only three games is not enough
A team will only get better if they play more matches together and spend as much time on the field as possible. For example, the Philippines, which will make its debut in the AFC Asian Cup next year are scheduled to play 13 International matches from September to the end of the year which includes friendlies and also fixtures in the ongoing ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championships. Other teams in the AFF Championship like Thailand and Vietnam are also getting enough games ahead of the all-important before taking the flight to the middle east. India’s group rivals UAE has played 7 friendlies in the past five months while Bahrain played 5 matches starting from September.
India needs to make use of the international breaks to a greater extent. At least two matches should be played in the windows. Moreover, India also participated in the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championships with a side mainly comprising of U-23 players and even lost the final 1-2 against a lowly ranked Maldives. Maybe these are the few areas Stephen Constantine could have used to check the positives and negatives of his boys and also the bench strength ahead of the continental meet. Playing a few matches within a few days helps the team adapt to a similar situation like the AFC Asian Cup where three matches will be played in a quick succession.
Nevertheless, we can expect a better display from the national team in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup compared to the 2011 edition. All eyes will be on Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri as he will get a final opportunity to represent India in such a big event. “If we compare ourselves with the other Asian countries then we fall short, but if we compare with what we were 15 years back then I think we have made huge strides. “But because we’re chasing the bigger teams, we can’t be happy or satisfied, we have to keep our heads down and keep improving,” said the Indian skipper to the-acf.com.
For the first time, 24 teams will participate in the AFC Asian Cup, India’s chances for making a progress to the knockout stages is enhanced. Bahrain is ranked 116th as per the latest FIFA rankings while Thailand is at the 122nd spot. Both of teams are lower ranked than India (97th), only UAE (81st) is higher ranked than India in group ‘A’. If the ‘Blue Tigers’ fail to finish in the top two positions in the group stage, they might still get through to the next round as the best third-placed team.
It is not fair to get into calculations at the present moment, but we can hope India plays as per their potential. India will begin their AFC Asian Cup campaign on January 6, 2019, against Thailand in Abu Dhabi while they are scheduled to face hosts UAE on January 10th. India will face Bahrain in the final group stage fixture in Sharjah on January 14th.
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