While India’s hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup are long extinguished, the nation’s football team still has a chance to play at the 2023 Asian Cup. This is because the Blue Tigers just need to get a third-placed finish in the current World Cup Qualifiers.
As it stands, India are in fourth place in Group E behind Qatar, Oman and Afghanistan. The team have three matches yet to play and they’ll need to experience a dramatic change of form to succeed.
With just three points from five games, Igor Stimac’s team have had a disappointing run of games. Much has also been affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has meant that plenty of games have had to be rescheduled. India didn’t play football competitively throughout the whole of 2020. The one planned game – a friendly against Tajikistan – was cancelled in March.
All of which means that the Indian team will have nothing in the way of practice ahead of the three hugely important qualifier matches. Many football fans who saw that wetten.com reviewed Bet365 for Indian player will note that this bookmaker give India long odds for qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup. Here’s what India will have to do to succeed.
A tough challenge to beat Qatar
India’s first challenge is to get anything from their home game against Qatar on 23 March. Qatar are the clear group leaders with 16 points for their six games. Five of these matches have been wins and head coach Felix Sanchez has been able to pass on some of his significant experience to the team.
India’s toughest task will be scoring against Qatar. Not only have Qatar only conceded one goal in their six qualifying matches, but India’s attack is looking remarkably toothless with just three goals from five. While Stimac may opt to go with the experience of Sunil Chherti, he may prefer to give India’s attack more pace with talented youngsters such as Ashique Kuruniyian or Udanta Singh. But whoever gets to start the game will face a tough challenge in taking on the talented Qatar team.
Confident of victory over Bangladesh
India’s next game takes place on 6 June and sees them travelling to Bangladesh. In theory, this game should be India’s for the taking. Bangladesh have clearly struggled with form in the current World Cup qualifiers having picked up just a single point from their five games.
Unfortunately this point was gained at India’s expense when the two teams last met in October 2019. In fact, India were lucky to get anything from this game. This is because it was only Adil Khan’s goal in the 88th minute that equalised the match 1-1 and saved India’s blushes. Football fans will be hoping that the attacking force of Kuruniyian and Singh will be better placed to take advantage of Bangladesh’s defensive frailties in June 2021.
A must-win game against Afghanistan
India’s last game in the World Cup qualifiers sees them taking on Afghanistan at home on 14 June. Most likely it’s going to be a must-win game as Afghanistan currently occupy third place in the Group E table – the place that India must reach to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup.
At the moment, Afghanistan are currently just one point ahead of India. The two teams drew 1-1 when they last met in November 2019. Again, it was a very late goal that got India the point. This saw Seiminlen Doungal scoring three minutes into injury time. If India can take comfort from anything, it’s the fact that Afghanistan have an even-worse scoring record with just two goals from five games.
Changing fortunes for Indian football
While India’ current position might not look too promising, the team have actually played better than the results suggest. Much of this has come from head coach Igor Stimac’s desire to play a more attacking style of football. Recent games have seen India playing with a 4-3-2-1 formation and it aims to promote a more possession-based style of play compared to previous years.
India had become known for playing a fairly conservative long-ball game, but Stimac has been pivotal in implementing a system that allows the full-backs to operate with much more flexibility. While there is little doubting the pace of Bengaluru FC’s Kuruniyan, it’s clear that the team’s crossing needs to improve so as to boost the mediocre scoring record. But with over a year since India last played, it’s anybody’s guess as to how this team has improved ahead of its massive qualifying games.