The Indian football team will play its remaining three matches of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup second round qualifiers in June this year.
Originally set to be played in March and April last year, the matches have already been postponed multiple times due to COVID-19.
According to the last update in November, Igor Stimac’s India team was set to play its tie against Asian champions Qatar before March while India's fixtures against Bangladesh and Afghanistan were to be conducted before June.
However, as per to the latest directives coming from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday, the Qatar match will be shifted to the June international window as well. All matches will be played at a centralised venue.
“Taking into consideration the existing travel and quarantine restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent, the AFC and FIFA have jointly agreed to postpone the majority of the upcoming Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023,” said the AFC.
Only four matches – Nepal vs Australia in Kathmandu (March 30), Mongolia vs Japan in Chiba (March 30), Saudi Arabia vs Yemen in Riyadh (March 25) and Tajikistan vs Mongolia in Dushanbe (March 25) – will not be impacted.
AFC, though, remains committed to its earlier decision to wrap up the second round of the joint qualifiers by June 15.
Though the AFC or the All India Football Federation (AIFF) are yet to release final dates for India’s remaining matches, reports suggest India will play Qatar on June 3, Bangladesh on June 7 and Afghanistan on June 15.
Having played five games, the Sunil Chhetri-led India are fourth in Group E with three points.
With only the eight group winners and the four best runners-up progressing to the third round of the FIFA World Cup Qatar qualifiers, India’s chances of making the cut look slim at best.
In the improbable event of the Indian football team making it to the next round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, it will directly qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
In case India are unable to go past the second round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers, they will have to play another round of qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup.
Realistically, India will be aiming for the third spot to clinch a direct berth to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers and avoid the hassles of a play-off round.
Lead photo: AIFF